At least 7 homeless in Coal Township fire
COAL TOWNSHIP - At least seven people were displaced by a two-alarm fire Sunday that spread through the connected attics of four row homes in the 1300 block of West Walnut Street.
Anyone inside the homes were evacuated by the time emergency responders arrived on scene shortly after 6:30 p.m. No injuries were reported to occupants or firefighters.
A state police fire marshal is expected on scene at 9 a.m. today in an attempt to determine the point of origin and cause.
The heaviest damage appears to be at the front of the second and third floors of 1334 W. Walnut St., owned by Keith Walczak and rented by Megan Thomas.
Flames burned through adjoining walls in the third floor and spread east to 1332 W. Walnut and west to 1336 and 1338 W. Walnut.
All four homes sustained heavy fire, smoke and water damage.
Eric Rumberger was inside his home at 1338 W. Walnut St. when he heard what he believed to be an argument outdoors. He walked onto his porch and could see the second floor of 1334 W. Walnut St. was engulfed in flames. Everyone had already made it out safely. He made sure of the same at his house while also escaping with two pet poodles.
"We tried knocking to make sure no one was inside," Rumberger said of the neighboring properties.
He lives at the home with his wife, Tracy, and son, Michael. His daughter, Brittany, was also at his
home when the fire was discovered.
As Walczak watched from across the street as firefighters attempted to extinguish the blaze, his son, Chris, stood at his side as Dena Lichty gave a hug to comfort him. He was returning to town from his camper when he learned of the fire at his residence, 1336 W. Walnut, and the property he rents to Thomas.
Richard Johns was visiting Christine Davies at her home at 1332 W. Walnut. He heard popping noises upstairs on the roof, looked out and saw the flames. He immediately yelled to Davies.
"I saw people on the phone so I just grabbed what I could," Davies said. She left with her cell phone, a laptop computer and her three dogs that she put safely inside a vehicle. Her son, Calob Davies, 20, stood with her at the scene. He wasn't home when the fire was discovered.
Utility wires hung closely to the homes posed a danger. The fire burned through an electric line that popped several times before falling onto the roof near the rain gutters.
Michael Timco, assistant chief of the Coal Township Fire Department, feared the lines energized the gutters. That prevented ladders to be placed against the homes from the sidewalk, initially denying access to the front windows and porch roofs. He also kept the front of the scene mostly clear save for the master line manned on the roadway more than halfway out from the curb.
"The electric lines kill you," Timco said of efforts to fight the fire, perhaps unknowingly about the phrase's other meaning.
"Once they break free they limit aerial use," he said of ladder trucks.
Flames were spreading in 1334 W. Walnut through the shared walls with 1332 and 1336 W. Walnut. Firefighters broke through each side in the second and third floors to douse the fire.
At least five firefighters scaled the ladder of Truck 32, Rescue Fire Company, to access the exterior roofs. They climbed at an angle onto 1338 W. Walnut and away from where the electric line fell.
Saws were used to cut a ventilation hole between 1334 and 1336 W. Walnut. That allowed the flames to rise straight into the air and prevent them from fanning out any further. It also let the hot air rise out.
Windows were intentionally shattered from inside the homes to aid in ventilation.
Along with the master line on Walnut Street, six hand lines were used at the front and two hand lines at the rear. Access to the rear of the scene was restricted because of the existing structures along Water Street.
The fire was extinguished more than one hour after it was initially reported, and Timco lauded the efforts of all responding firefighters.
Volunteers from all seven fire companies of the Coal Township Fire Department responded. They were aided by members of Shamokin's Rescue Squad, Rescue Fire Company. and Liberty Fire Company.
Also responding were firefighters from Ralpho Township, Overlook, Atlas and Kulpmont as well as members of two Rapid Intervention Teams from Mount Carmel and Upper Augusta Township.