KULPMONT - Four houses were destroyed, four other buildings damaged and as many as seven families left homeless in a fire along Chestnut Street (Route 61) that started just before 5 a.m. Monday.

Occupants and neighbors watched in horror as the double-home where the fire is believed to have started collapsed after just 20 minutes. They reported hearing explosions as well, and firefighters were kept back at first by a dangling live electrical wire.

All occupants were able to escape, although two

residents were injured, one of them requiring hospital treatment, and a firefighter suffered a hand injury.

Kulpmont Fire Chief Raymond Siko II said Monday afternoon there was no cause, and he said determining one is unlikely because of the extensive damage.

First calls at 4:55

Several 911 calls were made at 4:55 a.m. - just before a winter storm began dropping snow and sleet on the area - reporting flames at 916-918 Chestnut St., two buildings west of Shimock's Furniture. Both sides of the double-home were totally engulfed when firefighters arrived.

Flames leaped from the roof and sides of the building, causing 912-914 Chestnut St. to also catch fire. Soon after that, 916-918 Chestnut St. collapsed.

Siko said the jumping flames made it tough on firefighters.

"I arrived on scene one minute after the call went out, and there was already fire from the basement to the roof at the homes at 916 and 918," Siko said. "We also saw flames in the attic of 914."

Siko said efforts were hampered by the live electrical line, which apparently broke from the intense heat. Firefighters had to wait until a PPL crew came on scene to disconnect the power before fighting the flames.

A second-alarm was quickly placed, bringing additional units to the scene. Firefighters attacked the blaze from all angles, putting emphasis on protecting neighboring buildings.

Destroyed, damaged homes

Homes totally destroyed were 918 Chestnut St., occupied by Joyce Little and her son Michael; 916 Chestnut St., occupied by David Dubbs; 914 Chestnut St., occupied by Donald Endrizza; and 912 Chestnut St., occupied by roommates Larry Cinelli and Dennis Zarick. Officials did not have confirmation of those names as of Monday evening or whether other family members were living in some of the homes.

Several homes were damaged by heat and smoke, including 920 Chestnut St., occupied by Donato Quagliara and his wife, Rosa, and 922 Chestnut St., occupied by Dave Dallabrida and his wife, Diane. Also, the heat was so intense it melted the aluminum siding of the former office of dentist Michael Breskiewicz at 921 Chestnut St. - across the street from the damaged homes.

Heat damage was also reported on the outside of the Cantina Stampina social club, located at 910 Chestnut St., and several families living in apartments above the club may have been left homeless.

Windows were knocked out and damage seemed more extensive at 920 Chestnut St. than at 922, but it was not known if either building was inhabitable as of Monday evening.

The owner of 922 Chestnut St., Lucy Quincy, of Shamokin, credited asbestos shingle siding with preventing her house from catching fire.

Dubbs was taken to Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital after suffering burns at the scene. He was treated and released, according to a nursing supervisor. Another occupant, for whom Siko did not have a name, was treated for minor burns at the scene. A firefighter was also treated at the scene for a hand injury suffered following a fall, he said.

Heard 'banging,' explosion

Diane Dallabrida said she awoke when she heard people yelling outside her home. At first, she thought someone was having an argument, but realized the gravity of the situation when she looked out her window.

Bernie Varano, of 909 Chestnut St., was getting out of bed when he heard commotion coming from across the street.

"I heard all of this banging, then I heard an explosion," Varano said. "I looked outside and saw both sides engulfed."

The American Red Cross reported volunteers were on scene Monday, helping those who were displaced by the fire, and will be making sure that those affected have food, clothing and shelter and will follow-up to help meet any additional disaster needs.

In addition, the nearby Turkey Hill Minit-Market provided water and coffee for firefighters, and the Kulpmont Knights of Columbus opened its doors to provide food, shelter and drinks for those at the scene.

Crews had the fire just about out by 10 a.m., but stayed on scene throughout the day, wetting down the debris and checking for hot spots. Four blocks of Route 61 was closed for much of the day while the scene was cleaned up and power restored. It reopened to traffic at 4:10 p.m.

It was the worst fire in Kulpmont since at least July 15, 2010, when a blaze destroyed the Pappy Baluta and Sons plumbing business and an upstairs apartment at 940 Chestnut St. - about 10 doors down the same side of the street from Monday's blaze. Owner Ed Baluta, who had operated in the same location for more than 25 years, vowed to rebuild, and did so, opening his new business in June 2011.