Five families are displaced and three properties destroyed following a fast-moving four alarm fire that struck multiple homes and businesses just after 6 p.m. yesterday at the Schuylkill Gun Works gun shop on the 100 block of West Main Street in Schuylkill Haven.
Billowing smoke could be seen for miles as over 100 firefighters from over a dozen communities, to include 12 volunteer firefighters from Tamaqua Fire Department's Rapid Intervention Team, responded and helped put a quick stop to the fire.
The fire claimed three large warehouse-size garages on W. Wilson Street and caused extensive damage to many adjacent properties located on the same street, as well as three businesses on West Main Street and surrounding homes on Railroad Street.
Many witnesses said they heard three separate explosions only few minutes after the fire started.
The front of the gun shop, which is owned by Joseph Peters, sustained damage including smoke and broken windows, while the back of it was destroyed.
Borough police officer Gregory Meisner, who was one of the first to arrive, stated, "Everything was to the rear. There were flames and smoke shooting across the alley."
The Downtown Tavern at 24 W. Main Street, owned by Michael Bubeck, mainly received smoke damage.
A two-unit apartment building, 26 W. Main St., sustained minimal damage while two other apartment buildings - the former Cully's Sub Shop, 18 W. Main St., and a corner building containing a wood-working shop, 18 W. Main St., sustained minimal damage as well.
Neighbor Carl Hufngle, who witnessed the fire, said, "When I looked outside, I saw flames shooting 30 feet over the roof of the building (Gun Shop garage)."
In addition to destroying the gun shop's garage, the flames destroyed three other adjacents garages..
"We're not sure how many containers of powder exploded. We know of at least three explosions," said Schuylkill Haven Fire Chief Glenn Sattizahn. "I'm not sure about the weapons."
During the response, police and firefighters asked nearby homes and businesses to evacuate as a precaution.
Nearby resident Robbie Boyer, said, "I'm very relieved, I just want to hug every firefighter here."
Victoria Spitler, 18, a Schuylkill Haven High School senior, who graduates today, made it a priority to grab her cap and gown. Spitler's home, which was located directly across from the gun shop's garage, was extensively damaged by the fire.
"I graduate tomorrow and if not, I'm going to be the only one, the odd man out and it's going to mean a lot too me to graduate," she said holding her gown.
Officials added that Mike Mansell, Cressona Fire Chief, was hospitalized when he fell through a floor of one of the burning buildings. They added that he was quickly rescued by other volunteers and taken to an ambulance for treatment of non life-threatening injuries.
In addition to all the fire companies and Rapid Intervention Teams on scene, EMS units from Orwigsburg EMS and Pottsville-Schuylkill Haven Area EMS were on scene along with police from Schuylkill Haven, Orwigsburg, Cass Township, and state police from the Schuylkill Haven barracks.
Five of the families are being offered assistance by the Schuylkill/Berks American Red Cross. In addition to helping the fire victims, Red Cross volunteers and various community members were on scene for the duration providing food and refreshments to all the emergency responders.
West Main Street was closed for the response and duration. Borough fire police assisted with both traffic detours and crowd control at the fire scene.
Fire officials were on scene this morning trying to determine the cause of the blaze.