ASHLAND - A blaze severely damaged two houses Friday morning on the 1200 block of Walnut Street in Ashland, displacing one resident.

Ashland firefighters were called at 10:36 a.m. to 1222 Walnut St., finding that property and 1218 Walnut St. fully involved, with fire filling a space about two feet wide between the buildings. Fire departments from Girardville, Gordon, Altamont, Mount Carmel and Mahanoy City were called to the scene.

Thick smoke was noticeable for miles as it rose, but due to the light winds, it also hung at ground level, putting the area in a smoky haze.

Most of the main structural damage occurred at the rear of both buildings, where the fire started.

A live electrical line was arcing in the backyard of 1222 Walnut St., and firefighters hit the homes from the sides of the property to avoid electrocution until PPL Electric Utilities arrived to cut the power.

In front, water streams were aimed toward the gap between the buildings, and later toward the east side and roof of 1218 Walnut St.

The owner of 1222 Walnut St., Kurt T. Miller, was not home when the fire broke out. The 1218 Walnut St. property, owned by Gilberto Delgado and Lissette Cires, of Puerto Rico, is vacant but was undergoing repairs. Jose Reyes was at the property doing work for the owners.

"I was inside working and decided to come out to the front and have a coffee and a cigarette," Reyes said. "People came out from across the street and were yelling that the house was on fire. I was taking out the paneling that was damaged when the roof was leaking."

Reyes said he had no indication when he came outside that a fire had started.

"I didn't smell a thing," Reyes said.

The fire was brought under control within the hour, according to Ashland First Assistant Fire Chief Ray Jones, who was in charge at the scene.

Trudy Raezer lives at 1227 Spruce St., which is a block behind Walnut Street. She said the fire spread very quickly.

"I had been just out to open my back door and I didn't see anything," Raezer said. "I went back inside and made a bowl of cereal and then saw this bright light. I went to my back window and saw the fire was coming up between the two houses. The fire was shooting up so high. I was concerned about my house. I have the original deed from 1864 and it's been in our family ever since. I was worried."

She added, "I called 911, closed my windows and went to move my car so the fire trucks could get in."

On Friday afternoon, state police fire marshal Trooper John F. Burns began the investigation, working with Jones and Ashland Fire Chief Philip Groody. Burns spoke to the owners of both properties, along with residents who provided information and photos taken on cell phones to help with his investigation.

"At this point, I'm going with the fire starting at 1218 Walnut St.," Burns said. "There is nothing concrete about the cause at this time. There is still one person we want to interview. I'm going to walk through one more time, take some more notes and photos."

Ashland Fire Police provided traffic control and the Washington Fire Company Community Ambulance Association EMTs were at the scene.