SHAMOKIN - A three-alarm fire claimed the life of a 13-year-old girl found in her attic bedroom and destroyed five South Rock Street row homes Tuesday.

Melissa "Missy" Pangburn died from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to James F. Kelley, Northumberland County coroner. She was pronounced dead at 12:45 p.m. inside her bedroom at 5 S. Rock St.

Pangburn was a seventh-grade honor roll student at Shamokin Area Middle/High School. The district was closed Tuesday due to the threat of a winter storm.

Early signs indicate the fire originated inside Pangburn's home. At least one other person home at the

time exited safely and no injuries to neighbors were reported.

While the cause of the fire remains unknown, it is not considered suspicious, according to Raymond Siko II, a city patrolman and the city's fire investigator.

Kelley said there's no way to know whether Pangburn was aware of the fire before she died.

Northumberland County 911 was alerted to the fire at 10:58 a.m. Flames had already engulfed 5 S. Rock St., shooting from a window of a second-floor bedroom at the rear of the home, and were spreading to adjoining homes when emergency responders arrived.

Stairs 'a ball of fire'

City police officers, paramedics and neighbors were among the first on scene. They assisted the first firefighters who arrived by running hose lines and standing a ladder before reinforcements arrived from nine communities.

Alerted that Pangburn was in the attic, some attempted to enter but were turned away by heat and smoke.

"I couldn't get up the steps. They were a ball of fire," said Shamokin Police Chief Edward Griffiths.

Patrolman Nate Rhodes climbed to the second story at the rear of the home. He tried to enter a window but flames shot out when it was opened.

Clouds of thick gray smoke, some of it light, some dark, rose rapidly from the second and third floors of 5 S. Rock St. and grew more massive as flames spread in each direction through neighboring 1, 3, 7 and 9 S. Rock.

The homes are located catty-corner from Friendship Fire Co. and in the same neighborhood as a group of homes damaged by flooding in September 2011 and demolished earlier this year.

When fire gets a head start, it's hard to catch up, said Shamokin Battalion Chief Bruce Rogers, who had command of the scene.

An aggressive interior attack was initiated in 5 S. Rock St. and neighboring homes. Hose lines were strewn up and down Rock Street and to the rear of the homes. Firefighters climbed from three ladder trucks to the third-floor exterior roofs and used saws to cut holes to ventilate the structures. Windows were broken inside the homes to do the same.

Flames burned through the roof at 5 S. Rock St. and opened a large hole. Damage to the roof raised fears of a collapse while rear dormers sagged at both 5 and 7 S. Rock St. A dormer at the front of the home partially collapsed onto the sidewalk.

Craig Fetterman watched the firefighting effort from a second floor deck at the rear of 4 S. Shamokin St.

"You could feel the heat," he said of walking from the apartment onto the deck. "The flames were 10 feet higher than the house and there was a considerable amount of smoke."

 

'Cute little kid'

A group of onlookers standing at the corner of South Shamokin Street and East Chestnut Street watched as the scene unfolded, and they recalled details later.

"The major part of the fire blew out some windows and the flames burst through," said William Feese, of 400 S. Pearl St., who was among a group standing at South Shamokin and East Chestnut streets.

Sandra Hornberger, of 449 S. Vine St., said she saw Pangburn around the neighborhood.

"She was a cute little kid," she said.

The fire was under control and mostly extinguished when firefighters accessed Pangburn's bedroom through neighboring 3 S. Rock St. and found her body about 12:05 p.m. Kelley and James R. Gotlob, chief deputy coroner, arrived shortly thereafter.

Firefighters continued to check for hot spots and were on "mop up" duty into the late afternoon.

Origin likely 5 S. Rock

Siko, who was assisted at the scene by Kirk Renn, a state police fire marshal, believes the fire originated in the second floor of 5 S. Rock St., but hasn't pinpointed exactly where or how.

Damage to the property was extensive and is complicating the investigation. The stairway burned and collapsed, but the second and third floors were accessible through neighboring 3 S. Rock St. and also via ladders set up from ground level outside the home. Debris lay throughout the property, which was soaked from top to bottom. The exterior roof sagged and appeared in danger of collapse.

Siko will return to the scene today to continue the investigation.

Many interviews remain to be done with occupants of 5 S. Rock St., neighbors and others known to be in the area at the time the fire was discovered. It's all part of a normal fire investigation process, Siko said.

Homes condemned

All five homes were condemned by Rick Bozza, code enforcement officer.

Joan and Mike Muskey resided at 1 S. Rock St., and Joan Muskey also owns 3 S. Rock St., according to city and county records. Deeds to both properties are in both her name and that of her late husband, John Mrowka.

Bernie and Jan Nestico, of Kulpmont, own 5 S. Rock St., a rental property occupied by adults Barbara Wiley and Joe Decchio and minors Jonathan Wiley and Pangburn, according to city landlord-tenant records.

Mary and Ed Krzykwa own 7 S. Rock St. and Keith Tamborelli, of Kulpmont, owns 9 S. Rock St., the records state.

Assisting members of Shamokin Fire Bureau at the scene were personnel from Coal Township, AREA Services Ambulance, Mount Carmel, Upper Augusta Township, Shamokin Dam, Sunbury, Atlas, Sunbury, Kulpmont and Ralpho Township.

There were also personnel and apparatus on standby assignments in Shamokin from Danville, Sunbury and Ralpho Township as well as personnel from Catawissa on standby in Kulpmont.

There was chatter among fire personnel that multiple motorists in both Kulpmont and Shamokin, perhaps as many as 30 as counted by one crew, refused to pull to the side of the road to allow emergency vehicles to pass.

Also, one city motorist was reportedly cited after running his vehicle into a fire hose and causing it to burst.

Last fatal in 2008
Aug. 28, 2008, was the last time anyone died in a fire in Shamokin. The victim that day was 65-year-old James Bannon, a handicapped man who lived at 709 W. Chestnut St. Four others escaped the apartment building.
(Staff Writer Justin Strawser contributed to this report.)

(Staff Writer Justin Strawser contributed to this report.)