COAL TOWNSHIP - A state police fire marshal is unable to determine the cause of a three-alarm fire that gutted one West Arch Street home and caused severe damage to two others early Thursday morning.

Two people who initially could not be roused were alerted to the fire after a police officer knocked down a door and ran inside their home to wake them. The home had collected heavy smoke when the officer breached the door.

No one was seriously injured.

Trooper Kirk Renn of the Milton station investigated the scene in the 1200 block Thursday afternoon. Asked if he considered the cause to be suspicious, he replied "Well, it is undetermined."

"We can't rule anything out. The Coal Township Police Department is going to be furthering the investigation," Renn said by telephone.

The fire broke out shortly before 2 a.m. in the first floor of an unoccupied home at 1239 W. Arch St., owned by Pal Singh, of Jamaica, Queens, New York. It spread through the walls and into the second and third floors of the home before burning through the roof.

Flames also spread into the attic of an attached home at 1241 W. Arch St. and also into the second and third floors of a partially attached home at 1237 W. Arch St.

While no one was home at either 1241 or 1239, Patrick Fetterman and his girlfriend, Laura Gemberling, were fast asleep in their bedroom at 1237. They weren't awakened until after Coal Township Police Patrolman Ed Purcell, who along with fellow police officer Joshua Wynn initially responded to the scene, kicked in the main door and shouted up the stairway.

Heavy smoke had already collected inside their home.

"Thank God those cops were there to wake us up," Fetterman said.

Police also kicked in a door at nearby 1235 W. Arch and roused Anita Robel from her sleep as a precaution since heavy smoke was circulating outside of her home.

Fetterman and Gemberling fled with their pets, a dog, a cat and a rabbit. He later called his neighbor at 1241 W. Arch St., Jeffery McCloud, to alert him to the fire.

Still upbeat

McCloud and his wife, Norma, were in New Jersey visiting relatives. He returned home about 5 a.m. to find his home in shambles.

Later that afternoon, he was in good spirits while he and Pastor Karen Fisher of nearby St. John's United Methodist Church spoke about the fire.

"What can you do? I'm thankful that I wasn't here and that I'm alive," he said, leaning on a pickup truck while water continued to drip steadily from a light fixture on the front porch of his home.

"I've been down and lost everything before."

The couple are insured. It's not yet clear if his home is officially a total loss.

"To me it's a total loss. I'm not trying to fix it," he said.

McCloud said he is going back to New Jersey to stay with relatives. Fetterman and Gemberling moved into an apartment above a garage to the rear of their fire-damaged home.

Renn said an insurance adjustor estimated damage to Fetterman's home at $115,000. He hadn't heard about McCloud's yet, but believed the figure would be about the same.

Firefighters' efforts

Although McCloud was out of town, Fisher was right across the street and watched intently while firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze.

"It was massive. The flames were shooting from the attic," Fisher said. "They were amazing. I've got to tell you, I have so much respect for the firefighters."

Maine Fire Company Engine 111, Shamokin Truck 32 of the Rescue Fire Company and Mount Carmel Truck 2 of the Anthracite Fire Company were positioned near the front of the structures.

A deck gun on Engine 111 and a master stream on Truck 32 were used to suppress fire from the roof and front of the buildings.

"We tried to use the master streams to knock (the fire) down so we could get our people in there to do an interior attack," said Mike Timco, Coal Township's assistant fire chief. "It just had such a good start on us. It was already well involved when I pulled in."

Firefighters ascended the ladder of Truck 2 to reach the roof of 1237 W. Arch St., where they cut a hole to vent the home. Walls inside the homes were torn apart to get at the flames and windows were opened or knocked out.

Additional firefighters from numerous companies fought the fire from all angles and inside the buildings. At 2:45 a.m., fire command ordered firefighters to evacuate 1239 and 1241 due to unsafe conditions.

It took about one hour from the time it was reported to bring the fire under control and another hour after that until it was extinguished.

Hot, humid

Timco said the heat and humidity even that early in the morning took a toll on the emergency responders. The crews from the third alarm were brought in to assist and keep everyone as fresh as possible.

"I think the big problem was it was hot, and with the heat so soon in the year the guys were dropping like flies. ... It was just too hot," Timco said.

Assisting Coal Township and Shamokin fire personnel on scene were crews from Kulpmont, Overlook, Atlas, Mount Carmel and Sunbury. Shamokin Patrolman Raymond Siko II also assisted.

It wasn't until after 7 a.m. that the scene was fully cleared.

Purcell suffered a minor injury to one of his knees, caused by knocking down the doors. No one else was injured.

Other fires

The 1200 block of West Arch Street is no stranger to fire. In fact, two homes directly next door to McCloud's were gutted in an arson fire on Sept. 19, 2007. The homes were later torn down. One side of McCloud's home, which he said he purchased long after the arson fire, is lined with wood used to close that side off after the blaze.

State Police Fire Marshal Norman Fedder of the Milton barracks determined the blaze was intentionally set inside 1243 W. Arch St.

Fedder said someone set cardboard boxes on fire just inside the doorway on the first floor. He said the boxes contained various items, including shoes and magazines.

On March 4, 2007, nine homes along Eagle Avenue just steps away from West Arch Street were badly damaged, some completely destroyed, by a four-alarm. Those homes, too, were later torn down, and the cause of that fire was never determined.