Atlas fire destroys four houses
ATLAS - Four buildings are being razed after they were damaged in a early morning blaze Tuesday that left one person homeless and required the work of firefighters from four counties to extinguish.
In the end, the 3 a.m. fire in the 100 block of West Girard Street, just off of Route 61 and across the highway from the Pine Burr Inn, damaged a third of the block and left one person homeless as three of the four structures were unoccupied.
Initially, authorities at the scene said the fire was suspicious in nature, but after an investigation by Mount Carmel Township's Police Chief and fire marshal, Brian Hollenbush, the cause was listed "undetermined."
"We believed there was no power at 151 W. Girard St.," Hollenbush said. "After learning from the electric utility service power has been there for 10 years and due to the amount of damage, we are going to rule it undetermined."
Emergency personnel were called to the huge vacant building at 151 W. Girard St. at 2:58 a.m. The size of the building and the fact that flames spread to an adjoining three-story structure at 147-149 W. Girard St. resulted in a second alarm being dispatched almost immediately. Eventually, a third and fourth alarm were called, bringing additional units from Columbia, Schuylkill and Snyder counties.
The fire also spread to 143-145 W. Girard St., the only occupied structure to be damaged, while firefighters quickly worked to stop the flames after they reached an abandoned double home at 139-141 W. Girard St.
"I am very glad it was stopped where it was," said Atlas Fire Chief Charles Gasperetti. "This could have been a lot worse, and I commend all of the firefighters for their hard work."
25 tanker trucks
Gasperetti said there was a water issue on scene, but only because so many sources were pulling on the system. It prompted him to call for further assistance.
"I need five tanker trucks here," Gasperetti radioed at one point. "I don't care where you get them from, just get them here."
In all, about 25 tanker trucks from a three-county area were lined up along Route 61 waiting to be pressed into service.
Using hoses on the ground and aerial sprays from Shamokin, Beaverdale and Frackville trucks, the blaze was brought under control at approximately 5 a.m.
Smoke in bedroom
Gasperetti, who lives down the street from the fire scene, knew about the fire before the first crew arrived.
"There was that much smoke, the smoke detector went off in our middle bedroom," Gasperetti said. He said he looked outside and saw the flames.
Gasperetti, who is chairman of Mount Carmel Township's board of supervisors, also knew the history of the buildings and that they were unoccupied. With that, he ordered crews not to enter the structure and to fight it from outside instead.
Mount Carmel Township Patrolman Kelly Campbell, who was one of the first people on scene, said the three-story building was fully engulfed in flames.
"Not a soul was around the building, except for neighbors," he said.
The only person living in the area of the fire was Seth Thomson, who owned the double home at 143-145 W. Girard St. Thomson was sleeping when the fire started.
"I basically was woken up by a police officer who came in and told me that I had to get up and out," Thomson said.
Authorities said the home at 151 W. Girard St. is owned by Susanna Winters and Paul Bridy, of Raleigh, N.C., while the other two buildings are owned by the Northumberland County Tax Claims Bureau as abandoned structures.
A situation like this was something Thomson said he worried about, especially with the number of suspicious fires in Atlas earlier this year (see accompanying story). He owns both halves of his home and lived in one side; his was the only structure insured.
"I managed to get a few things out, but it's a total loss, with all the smoke and water damage," Thomson said.
The American Red Cross helped Thomson with food and clothing, and a fund has been set up for donations. Those wishing to contribute can give to the Seth Thomson Fire Victim Fund, c/o Union National Bank, 1 N. Oak St., P.O. Box 367, Mount Carmel, 17851.
Family member cries
Lisa Whispell, of Mount Carmel, watched the blaze with tears in her eyes, remembering the many generations of her family that lived in the approximately 1,800 square-foot home at 151 W. Girard St.
"I think mine was the last generation to live there," she said. "It is so sad to see all this destruction. Thank God no one was hurt."
In an e-mail sent to The News-Item. Jolene Gross remembered living in the house, too. She said it was built by the Procopio family.
"It was built as an Italian multi-family home by my great-grandfather when they came to America," Gross wrote. "He built another one further down Girard Street and the home at 151 also had a grocery store in the front."
Firefighters out in the early morning hours kept up their strength with water, coffee and donuts provided by the newly-formed Atlas Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary. A relief team from the Kratzerville Fire Company was on scene cooking hot dogs and providing hot beverages.
Once the blaze was extinguished, Gasperetti and fellow Mount Carmel Township supervisor Reynold Scicchitano discussed razing the burned-out structures. After consulting with fire officials, they determined that all four structures needed to come down.
A firm owned by Ferdinand Diminick, of Danville, was on scene around noon with an excavator. As a result, a third of the block will be empty lots.
Gasperetti said the demolition will cost between $50,000 and $60,000, but said it needed to be done.
"Hopefully, we can find some emergency funding to help pay for it or reimburse us," the chief said.
The south lane of Route 61, from its intersection with Route 54 in Strong to the viaduct in Mount Carmel was closed for approximately 15 hours while crews fought the fire and demolished the buildings, opening up at approximately 5:30 p.m.