SHAMOKIN - For the second time in less than 24 hours, fire crews responded to Shamokin Street to put out a blaze in an abandoned structure.

A two-alarm blaze struck the former Hardshell Cafe at 422 N. Shamokin St. at 7:15 p.m. Thursday. While fire engines arrived on scene, smoke poured from the basement of the structure and a nearby building at 420 N. Shamokin St.

Firefighters vented the structure and the resulting smoke caused near blackout conditions on the street.

The fire was discovered by two teens walking home on Shamokin Street.

"I was walking my friend home from work when we noticed the smoke coming from the building," said Sonya Bugg, 17, of Shamokin.

"It smelled just like a wood fire."

Bugg and Emily McHale, 17, walked one block up Water Street to the City of Shamokin Police Department and reported what they saw.

The girls said an on-duty officer, Raymond Siko II sprung into action.

"He came up to the front door and kicked it in trying to get inside (of the building on fire)," McHale said.

The first report said the fire was in the basement of the former bar; there was concern because several tanks of an unknown use were found in the basement.

Within 10 minutes of arriving, fire engines sounded their horns, a call to firefighters inside the structure to evacuate because it was deemed unsafe.

Using truck-mounted "Sqirt" appartus to shoot water inside the second and third floor and manning hoses spraying water from Shamokin Street, firefighters began soaking the bar and a nearby structure, also abandoned. That building is the former home of Pete DeRito, which was once not only his residence, but also a storefront church.

Extreme cold

Crews from Shamokin, Coal Township, Mount Carmel and several other municipalities spent several hours fighting the blaze. A special response unit from Sunbury also arrived on scene to provide hot beverages and a warm place for firefighters rest, if needed.

At 8:40 p.m., flames were first seen from outside the structure, burning in the first floor bar area.

Firefighters used masonry saws and sledgehammers to knock holes in the brick front of the building to help vent the fire, while water was sprayed through the front door to knock down the flames.

Not only were firefighters battling a blaze, they struggled with extreme cold and wind chill. A city street department employee walked around the fire scene, dropping rock salt on freezing areas.

The fire was under control by 10 p.m.


Earlier in the day, a fire was reported in the 700 block of North Shamokin Street (see separate story).

Shamokin City Police Chief Edward Griffiths said he was "concerned" by several fires in abandoned buildings in the past few months.

"Considering we have two abandoned buildings that were on fire today and in such close proximity with one another, it's something we will be taking a very close look at," he said.

R. Craig Rhoades, while not speculating on the cause of the blaze, said that with the latest incidents hitting vacant structures, it may be time for owners to check their properties.

"We are asking those who own vacant structures to make sure their buildings are secure. Do not make it easy for anyone to access the property," Rhoades said.