4 children, 2 adults die in Pottsville fire
POTTSVILLE - A fire overnight Sunday devastated a Pottsville family, leaving four children, their father and their aunt dead.
On Monday, authorities were still searching for the cause of the blaze.
"Six people lost their lives here. We're going to take it slow and make sure we do it right," Pottsville fire Chief Todd March said Monday.
Investigators believe the fire spread from the kitchen of the home at 235 Pierce St. but they are not sure how it started. Although the investigation continues, the fire does not yet seem suspicious.
The blaze claimed the lives of Eric Brown, 30; his children, Joy Brown, 8, Jeremiah Brown, 7, Emily Brown, 3, and Elijah Brown, 2; and Christina Thomas, 26, the children's aunt and sister-in-law of Eric Brown.
The children's mother and Eric Brown's wife, Kelly Brown, 28, was at a neighbor's home across the street doing laundry at the time of the fire and was not injured.
Firefighters were called to the home about 11:55 p.m. Sunday and found heavy fire to the rear of the home. Within minutes, flames spread to the entire second and third floors, forcing firefighters to retreat for their own safety, March said.
The chief said flames quickly spread up a nearby stairway leading to the third-floor bedrooms, where the victims were found.
"It started in the kitchen and traveled up the stairs quick," March said, noting that the stairway was the only way for anyone to exit the third floor.
March said it appears the fire was burning for some time and that the intensity of fire, heat and smoke made it impossible to save any of the victims.
"We think it had a good start. It may have been burning for a while," he said. "There was no chance to rescue anyone from inside."
March said investigators have found no evidence of smoke alarms inside the home and that if alarms were installed and working, it may have given the victims a chance to get out of the home.
"We do know they were all asleep at the time and think that some of them tried to get out," March said.
Although a wood/coal burning stove was in the area, it is not known if that was the cause of the fire. March said investigators are examining several other possibilities as well.
Found on third floor
State police fire marshals Troopers Edward Lizewski, Michael Kowalick and Thomas Finn are assisting March and his assistant chiefs.
Schuylkill County Deputy Coroner Joseph Pothering said he pronounced Christina Thomas dead at 1:37 a.m., Joy Brown at 3:13 a.m. and Emily Brown at 3:16 a.m. Deputy Coroner Scott Clews pronounced the remaining three victims dead at 3:26 a.m.
Pothering said Eric and Jeremiah Brown were found in a third-floor front bedroom and Emily Brown was in a third-floor middle bedroom.
He said Joy Brown was found on the third floor to the rear of the home and Christina Thomas was found partially out of a rear window. A small dog was also killed in the blaze.
Virtual autopsies were scheduled to be performed on the six victims later Monday at Simon Kramer Institute, New Philadelphia.
Worst in chief's career
March said in his 37 years as chief, Sunday's blaze was the worst loss of life he had seen in a fire.
He said the last time someone died in a fire in the city was about six years ago. Since he took over the department, 15 people have succumbed to fire-related injuries.
March said five or six firefighters suffered minor injuries Monday. Of those, two were taken to local hospitals and later released and the others were treated at the scene by EMS personnel.
Crews from all Pottsville fire companies responded along with Pottsville-Schuylkill Haven Area EMS and firefighters from surrounding communities.
The American Red Cross Schuylkill County Chapter assisted in providing assistance to Kelly Brown, whom officials said is staying with a cousin on North George Street in Pottsville.
Stephanie Brown, a relative of the family in Washington state, said a fund in Kelly Brown's name has been opened at Wells Fargo. Any Wells Fargo branch will accept donations to Account No. 2678703436.
Other fatal fires
The Pierce Street neighborhood was also the scene of a tragic fire March 16, 1993, that claimed the lives of two young children, Edward Santai, 3, and Nicholai Santai, 5, in their 417 Pierce St. home.
The rapidly moving fire occurred a few days after a major snowstorm dumped 16 inches of snow in Pottsville, hampering firefighters' efforts to get apparatus into the scene in the tight streets of Bunker Hill. The fire completely destroyed the home and heavily damaged neighboring structures.
More recently, three children and a woman died when flames tore through their home at 117 E. Coal St., Shenandoah, and damaged several others on March 27, 2012.
Tiffany Matejick Sanchez, 29, was able to save Diego Sanchez, 8, by placing him on the back roof of her home but Matejick Sanchez and her other son, Christian Sanchez, 10, died in the blaze along with the woman's two nephews, Damian Lopez, 10, and Aziah Hernandez, 7 months.
On April 6, a husband and wife died in a fast-moving fire in Mahanoy City that destroyed their apartment building, also sending a tenant to a trauma center for treatment.
Flames tore through the 329-331 E. Centre St. property, killing homeowners Morris Seabra, 69, and his wife, Adele, 60.
The causes of both the Shenandoah and Mahanoy City fires remain under investigation by state police fire marshals.