13-year-old admits to setting fire at vacant East Avenue property
MOUNT CARMEL - A 13-year-old Mount Carmel boy faces arson charges in connection with a fire Sunday that heavily damaged the basement of a vacant property at 207 N. Chestnut St., which is connected to a former apartment building on East Avenue that was gutted by fire in 2010.
Chief of Police Todd Owens said the teen, who was taken into custody at the scene, admitted setting a blanket or curtain on fire in the basement with a lighter that he later buried along a railroad bed near the borough baseball complex. Police used a metal detector to find the lighter.
He said a 12-year-old borough male, who was with the other teen and has cooperated with police, also will be charged.
The police chief said the boys set the fire because they wanted to stay warm.
Owens said both boys were seen by witnesses fleeing the scene of the fire shortly after heavy smoke was reported coming from the structure at about 5:30 p.m.
The 13-year-old was escorted by an officer to a police car, where he was detained before being transported to Mount Carmel Police Station for further questioning.
The two-alarm fire was reported by neighbors to Northumberland County Communications Center.
Owens, who is heading the investigation with Mount Carmel Fire Chief Jim Reed and Assistant Chief Jack Williams Jr., said the fire caused approximately $2,000 damage to the basement located on the northwest side of the two-story building.
Owens said the fire, which was ruled suspicious from the start since the building was vacant and had no electricity, was knocked down in about five minutes and declared under control within 15 minutes.
"The firefighters did an outstanding job containing the damage to the basement area," Owens said. "There was a lot of smoke when firefighters arrived and because of the poor condition of the building, things could have gotten a lot worse."
The police chief said firefighters found two lit candles on the first floor of the structure.
No injuries were reported.
Firefighters remained at the scene until 7 p.m.
Mayor J. Kevin Jones said the borough is working with county officials to have the property and an adjoining structure at 301 East Ave. approved for demolition. Both properties are heavily rundown as a result of a Sept. 12, 2010, blaze that left Ron and Susan Jackson and their four children homeless. Two dogs perished in that fire.
Several windows and doors that were broken from the previous fire remained uncovered on the Chestnut Street and Avenue sides of the structure that once housed apartments and a tavern. The mayor said borough street department workers will board up the property this morning.
The property went unsold at a Sept. 19 upset sale conducted by the Northumberland County Tax Claims Bureau.
Owens said the 13-year-old will be charged as a juvenile with multiple offenses including felonies of arson and risking a catastrophe. He said it was unknown Sunday night exactly what charges will be filed against the 12-year-old.
The police chief said both teens were interviewed by police in the presence of their mothers.
He said the 13-year-old boy was turned over to Northumberland County juvenile probation officers and is being housed at Northwestern Academy in Coal Township. The 12-year-old was released to the custody of his parents.
Assisting borough firefighters at the scene were Mount Carmel Patrolmen Kevin Katch and Jason Drumheller, Kulpmont and Conyngham Township police, Mount Carmel Area Rescue Squad, AREA Services Ambulance and firefighters from Atlas, Shamokin and Coal Township.