Latest Atlas fire not suspicious
ATLAS - A two-alarm fire that likely destroyed a West Girard Street apartment building Saturday is not considered suspicious.
Brian Hollenbush, Mount Carmel Township fire marshal, said the building at 101-103 W. Girard St. caught fire due to a faulty electrical outlet on the ground floor. He deemed the blaze an accident.
The four-story building is likely a total loss, he said, and its occupants were uninsured.
The fire was first reported shortly before 3:30 p.m. It was brought under control within the hour and the scene was cleared at 6:40 p.m.
Hollenbush credited all of the volunteers who responded to the scene, including Michael Minnig who assumed command upon arrival. Their efforts stopped the fire from spreading to neighboring 105-107 W. Girard St., where an alleyway just a few feet wide separates the structures. From that point west, the homes are situated like most in this part of the coal region, either barely separated or adjoined.
Many onlookers who gathered in the area could be overheard speculating on the cause, fearful the blaze would be suspicious. Some firefighters speculated just the same given recent events.
There have been three dubious fires in Atlas over the past week, all within five blocks or less of Saturday's blaze. It raised suspicions that the latest fire in this Mount Carmel Township village would be the fourth; however, that is not the case.
"The reality of it is it's electrical in nature. It's not suspicious," Hollenbush said. "You can see where the copper wire arced against
the (electrical) box."
Information on the occupants' identities was unavailable Saturday. Four men and a teenage boy identified at the scene as occupants were visibly distraught. Two were working with an American Red Cross volunteer to establish temporary housing. None cared to talk about what had unfolded.
While no one was injured in the fire, two pit bulls and a cat inside the building were killed.
Robert Fanella, chief of Natalie Fire Company, was driving north on Route 61 from Mount Carmel when he saw heavy smoke rising from the village. He swung his vehicle into Atlas, saw the building on fire and called 911.
"When I first got here I saw flames coming out the front window and the one on the side," Fanella said, pointing toward a pair of ground-floor windows, one on the building's West Girard Street side and another on the Mulberry Street side.
The flames were spreading up the exterior walls, charring a large portion of a second-floor porch.
As other firefighters arrived on scene, some coming from a brush fire that had ignited behind International Paper west of Mount Carmel, they banged on doors at 101-103 W. Girard and 105-107 W. Girard. No one was home at either building.
The first hoses were readied and firefighters began an interior attack. Two hoses were initially taken through a door on the ground floor at the front of the building and a second through a rear door on the second floor. Inside the ground floor, everything was black. "I couldn't see anything," Fanella said.
More firefighters converged on the scene and took to fighting the fire from inside out, dousing flames with water and ventilating the structure on all four floors. Others climbed Anthracite Fire Company's ladder truck and took to the roof to ventilate the building using saws and claw tools.
The home was in ruins after it was over, water dribbling from beneath siding and from the roof, streaking away black residue that collected from the smoke. Almost every window was busted out. Siding was melted away. Interior walls were torn apart. The fire was extinguished and further disaster averted, but not before causing devastation to the building in which it originated.
Responding to the scene were members of fire companies from Atlas, Strong, Beaverdale, Natalie, Wilburton, Mount Carmel, Kulpmont, Englewood, Shamokin, Coal Township and Sunbury. AREA Services ambulance personnel were also on scene.