An ominous orange glow and heavy smoke filled the Tamaqua horizon around 3 o'clock this morning as firefighters from two counties responded to a fast-moving blaze that involved three sets of duplexes on South Lehigh Street in Tamaqua.
Fortunately, all of the residents managed to escape the blaze and there were only a few minor injuries.
The devastating fire, which also caused multiple explosions, involved six homes, destroyed three vehicles, left 11 people displaced, and resulted in 16 pets missing or dead.
Seven homes across the street were also damaged as a result of the high heat. Loud noises and pops could be heard blocks away as items inside the burning homes exploded or pole transformers overloaded. One witness reported seeing falling ashes almost a mile away from the fire.
In addition to power outages to surrounding homes, power was also shut off for about 40 minutes in west Tamaqua, including at the Five Points intersection.
James Connely, first assistant and incident commander, Tamaqua Fire Department, made the request to PPL to temporarily turn off power to a number of nearby transformers to protect the safety of firefighters using ladder trucks and lift buckets.
The fire appeared to originate at 11 South Lehigh St., a residence recently occupied by Amanda Dana, her mother Karen Kershner, an uncle Robert Dana, and her two children, son Alex 7, and daughter Elizabeth, 2.
They lost one pet to the fire and others, including a black-and-white pit boxer mix dog and eight cats, were missing.
It was a terrifying ordeal for Amanda Dana, who was quick to grab her 2-year-old daughter, but didn't see her son behind her during their escape. Her hair was on fire as she ran back into the burning building to search for her son.
After escaping the building for a second time, she learned that her son had been outside, going back and forth between neighbors homes, trying to alert them to the fire.
There was massive damage to 9 South Lehigh St., which has been unoccupied for a number of years. Living at that address were John Bowman and son William Bowman. They managed to save their dog, but lost two pickup trucks that caught fire in front of the homes.
Kevin Kellner, who lived at 5 South Lehigh St., saved one dog but another, a brown Shelby, was unaccounted for.
Michael Sedlock, who escaped barefoot, and Shaleen Hoben also escaped without injury.
Another pickup truck, owned by Marty Sedlock, was damaged by the high heat.
Harold Moseley, who lives at 15 South Lehigh St., was thankful for the quick response by fire crews.
Firefighters utilized a large low garage owned by John Handler, to fight the fire on multiple sides.
Cory McGeeham, who lives directly across the street from the fire, burned his arm while using a garden hose to protect his neighbors' homes.
Responding were Rapid Intervention Teams from Lansford and Summit Hill and fire companies from Tamaqua, Coaldale, Lansford, Pottsville and others. Ambulances from Tamaqua, Lansford and Quakake also responded.
In addition to Tamaqua and Rush Township Police, fire police from Tamaqua, Coaldale and Hometown controlled congestion around the scene, as well as directed traffic at numerous intersections without power this morning.
The Schuylkill and East Northumberland County of the American Red Cross was on scene providing monetary and comfort support to the displaced people, as well as providing food and refreshment to the emergency responders.
Volunteers with the Tamaqua Salvation Army were also on scene providing assistance to the displaced people and coffee to the emergency responders.
One unknown person at 228 West Broad St. was taken to the hospital via ambulance for respiratory problems.
A Tamaqua Salvation Army's disaster response representative said that monetary donations are best, no matter how small. Donations for the fire victims can be dropped off or mailed to the Tamaqua Salvation Army, 105 West Broad St., Tamaqua, PA 18252. Checks can be made out to: "Tamaqua Salvation Army;" put "South Lehigh St. Fire Victims" in the memo line.
For more ways to help the victims, call (570) 668-1234.