Fire destroys 3 Mount Carmel homes, damages 3 others
MOUNT CARMEL - Jessica Jackson was grateful someone got the family pictures out of her home before she watched fire consume it.
It was a glimmer of hope while her house on the 200 block of East Second Street was heavily damaged in a four-alarm blaze Wednesday morning.
In all, three homes were destroyed, three others damaged and eight to 10 people were displaced.
It was first reported at 8:11 a.m. and took firefighters from at least 10 municipalities - from Sunbury to Frackville - more than two hours to bring under control in near freezing temperatures.
Incident commander Clayton Hubler, Mount Carmel Rescue Squad, said a single row home at 242 and the double homes at 244 and 246 E. Second St. were destroyed, while a single home at 236 E. Second St. suffered exterior water damage. The double homes at 248 and 250 E. Second St. were also damaged when firefighters broke windows and cut holes in the roofs for ventilation.
Jackson, her husband, Mark, and son, Tyler, occupy 244 E. Second St., while Colleen May and Adam Auman live at 248 E. Second St. Hubler said names of others displaced by the fire would not be released until all names are confirmed, but he said all homes were occupied.
State Police Fire Marshall Kirk Renn, of the Selinsgrove barracks, is expected on scene today to to determine origin and cause, but the blaze is not considered suspicious.
Walls were hot
Jackson said she discovered the fire along with a neighbor, who declined to give her name.
"Jessica called me saying the wall was hot in her home, so she and I, with extinguishers at the ready, poked a hole in the wall with a claw hammer and flames started coming out," the neighbor said. "I called 911 and they told us to get out of the home."
The neighbor said Johnson wanted to go back in to get her cat, but by that time, the fire was spreading. "The ceiling was glowing," she said.
Dave Bozza, a local contractor, said he was working on a sidewalk next door when he saw the fire and ran across a backyard to alert those in one of the affected homes. He said no one was home, but he was able to get two pets out.
Smoke could be seen from at least a mile away on Route 61 in Atlas.
As more firefighters continued to arrive, brown smoke poured from the third floor window at 246 E. Second St. Windows were broken and holes were cut in the roof to vent the structure and, after that, flames could be seen engulfing the third floor of Johnson's home.
Hubler said the fire was tough to battle initially.
"We were faced with limited manpower and had a hydrant issue, which limited our water supply," Hubler said. "At that point, we called in a tanker brigade to help."
There were too many fire trucks pulling water from three hydrants in too small of an area, but it did not hinder the suppression of the fire, he said.
At one point, ladder trucks from Mount Carmel, Shamokin and Sunbury worked together to spray water on the houses from mounted deck guns.
Horns sound alarm
Despite the effort, flames began to spread to 242 E. Second St., igniting a front roof peak. Fire was contained to the third floor and roof of that home.
On two occasions, at 9 and 9:49 a.m., engines on scene blared their horns to warn those inside the structure to evacuate.
"The first time was because of the deteriorating conditions inside the structure; the second time was simply for a safety reason," Hubler said. "We were changing the focus of our attack from the interior to the exterior."
On scene 6 hours
With six homes - all of them occupied - Hubler said it could have been worse, but no one injured.
As for firefighters, one suffered a minor injury to his hand that occurred outside the structure, he said.
Crews had the flames under control at 10:11 a.m. and continued to check for hot spots. The scene wasn't cleared until 2:09 p.m., some six hours after it was reported.
(Harry Deitz, freelance photographer and writer, contributed to this story.)