Four homes are either destroyed or heavily damaged following a fast-moving fire that displaced four families this morning in Tamaqua.
Emergency personnel were called to the 100 block of Coal Street at about 5 o'clock for a report of a house fire.
The rising smoke was seen for miles, saturating the skyline above Tamaqua's South Ward section.
On scene within minutes of their first page, firefighters arrived to see billowing dark smoke shooting out four of the nine row homes.
"Despite having limited access to the fire, firefighters put a good stop on a strong fire," said Tamaqua Fire Chief Tom Hartz, who added that the fire started in the basement of 115 Coal St.
Even though all nine row homes (101-117 Coal St.) suffered some sort of smoke damage, the properties with the heaviest damage included homes immediately adjacent to 115 Coal St. They were 111, 113 and 117 Coal St.
The affected row homes are located just around the corner from the South Ward Fire Company, located on Van Gelder Street.
Tragically, a dog and two cats died in the fire.
"I thought the whole block was going up in flames," said local resident Michele Mehallic. "The firefighters were outstanding. Despite arriving to an already burning structure, all these firefighters managed to get the fire under control before it could spread to the whole block. These firefighters are Tamaqua's angels."
Hartz said the cause of the fire is still under investigation. He added there was one injury; that a firefighter cut himself on the roof of the burning home.
Living in 115 West Coal St. were Roxanne Counterman and her three children, two sons ages 13, 17 and a daughter, 19. They said they were missing a black female cat with a stubbed paw.
The home to the immediate right, 117 Coal St., located near the corner of West Spruce Street, was unoccupied and suffered major damage.
Ed and Bettemae Schaeffer, 113 Coal St., were helped out of their home by neighbors during the fire and are currently staying with family.
Ann Marie Hartranft, 111 Coal St., was carried out by her son Matthew Hartranft, who lives next door, at 109 Coal St., with his wife Katie. Ann Marie's husband, Earl "Mole" Hartranft, also lives at 111 Coal St.
Properties at 105 and 107 were both vacant.
Also suffering smoke damage were corner properties 101 Coal St., occupied by Daniel and his mother Angela Clouser, and 103 Coal St., the home of Obdulia Huitzil, her husband, and their sons, ages 8 and 10, and 5-year-old girl.
The families from 103 to 109 Coal St. are expected to reenter their homes, despite minor smoke damage.
The incident resulted in a massive outpour of community support as dozens of people responded to Facebook requests asking for shoes, blankets and oversized shirts for some of the fire victims, who were standing outside in the cold.
One person, Justin Startzel, took off his shoes and sweatshirt and gave it to a shirtless and shoeless fire victim. Other South Ward residents could be seen comforting victims as well as helping Tamaqua Salvation Army volunteers.
Members of the Tamaqua Salvation Army set up their emergency response station just outside the fire scene, providing housing and other assistance to all the families, as well as providing warm refreshments and snacks to all the first responders.
"I really appreciate all the volunteers that showed up in support of both the families and first responders," said Tamaqua firefighter Jason Green.
Ryan Township Rescue also set up their rehab unit for the first responders.
The Schuylkill County Red Cross responded and offered support to all the families affected.
Jennifer LoConte, regional communications officer for the American Red Cross, said the Schuylkill Chapter responded to a multi-family fire on Coal Street in Tamaqua. The Red Cross provided the following services: family #1 (two adults/one child) with food and lodging and family #2 (two adults/two children) with food, clothing and lodging. The Red Cross will follow up with the families if additional services are needed.
Burger King in Tamaqua donated orange juice and many warm breakfast sandwiches to all the firefighters and families.
Responding in addition to Tamaqua Police, Tamaqua Rescue Squad and all Tamaqua fire companies, were firefighters from Coaldale, New Philadelphia, Ryan Township, New England Township, Hometown, Lansford, Pottsville, Summit Hill and others. Hometown and Tamaqua Fire Police controlled the scene for the duration, which included the start of the school day at the nearby middle school and high school.
The Tamaqua Volunteers group has also opened a one-month fund to help the affected families replace beds and other necessities lost in the fire.
Monetary donations can be made at any Wells Fargo Bank by referring to "Sept. 18 Row Home Fire in Tamaqua." Volunteers encourage people to donate any amount, no matter how small.
More information about making monetary or appliance donations can be made by calling (570) 668-1234. More information regarding clothing donations, can be emailed to Amanda Woodring at firstname.lastname@example.org.