One man suffered burns and 65 residents were evacuated two times after a stubborn fire hit a seven-story apartment complex in downtown Tamaqua Sunday and then rekindled a few hours later.
The blaze at the Majestic House Apartments, E. Broad and Pine streets, was caused by careless smoking, according to Tamaqua Fire Chief Tom Hartz Jr. It erupted shortly after 9 a.m. in a rear, third-floor apartment occupied by a 60-year-old resident.
The unidentified man suffered burns to his knee and elbow along with various cuts and was taken to St. Luke's Hospital-Miners Campus, Coaldale, for treatment.
Residents were evacuated and then allowed to return to their units within an hour. However, the blaze flared up again and a second alarm rang shortly after 11 a.m., forcing another full-scale evacuation.
"Clothing stored in a metal closet had rekindled," explained Hartz, who commented on the intensity.
"He was lucky to get out of the bedroom. A recently installed smoke detector saved his life," Hartz said.
With elevator service disabled, the smoky fire sent dozens of residents fleeing down stairwells and out into the street twice within just a few hours.
"I grabbed my cat and my medicines," said second-floor resident Rosanne Reenock, who fled to the sidewalk and then across the street to a safe area alongside the former Moose Lodge building.
Joining Reenock was third-floor resident Scarlett Roberts.
"When I heard the alarm, I didn't want anyone to catch fire and so I went around and knocked on doors," said Roberts.
Tamaqua firefighters were able to knock down the flames quickly. Hartz said the complex is constructed with firewalls to prevent a blaze from spreading, part of a retrofitted 1980s fire suppression system, but damage inside the affected unit is substantial.
"The room is just totally gutted," Hartz said.
Resident Kristine Moyer looked out her window and saw drapes flying in the wind from an apartment two floors below her. She also saw the extent of the blaze as she evacuated her fourth floor unit and said "you could see black soot everywhere."
Moyer, who has a bad knee, knew she'd have to negotiate the steps to evacuate the building after Tamaqua Police Officer Mike Hobbs went around knocking on doors to alert occupants.
"I could smell it and then the firemen came to my door and said 'you have to get out.'"
Moyer has lived at the complex for 10 years and said Sunday's double evacuation was the first time anything like that has ever happened.
Some said they didn't need a fireman's warning, the smoke was enough to let them know something was amiss.
"I smelled the smoke and came down right away," said upper floor resident Mike Trubilla.
Hartz said both blazes were knocked down within 10 minutes or so.
"Smoke was our biggest issue," he explained.
All of the furniture in the room was destroyed said firefighters. A heavily burned foam mattress was seen on East Rowe Street, where it had been discarded by firefighters.
Residents said that smoking is not permitted inside the building at any location.
Fast response by the Tamaqua Fire Department, aided by Coaldale and Hometown fire departments and Carbon County Rapid Intervention Team, were key to preventing a larger disaster, said those at the scene.
Displaced residents were housed at various locations in the downtown, including the ABC Tamaqua High Rise building and the Tamaqua Rescue Squad building.
Hartz had words of praise for an overwhelming community response.
"We can't say enough about the residents and local establishments who stepped forward," said Hartz.
The community rallied to help.
Food, water, blankets, warm socks and even hot meals were provided to firefighters and displaced residents by the Tamaqua Diner, Tamaqua Salvation Army, Jones Grille, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, Turkey Hill and Tamaqua Volunteers.