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Fire probe

  • ANDY LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS Family members Robert Dana and Amanda Dana look over the remains of their home on South Lehigh Street, Tamaqua, following a raging fire that destroyed four homes and damaged more than eight others yesterday. The Danas had…
    ANDY LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS Family members Robert Dana and Amanda Dana look over the remains of their home on South Lehigh Street, Tamaqua, following a raging fire that destroyed four homes and damaged more than eight others yesterday. The Danas had just moved into their home a few weeks ago.
Published July 06. 2011 05:01PM

A fast moving fire that tore through six homes in Tamaqua around 3 a.m. Tuesday is still under investigation as a state police fire marshal and other officials continue examining the burnt debris.

The borough's demolition of two of the duplexes (four homes, 5-11 South Lehigh St.) this morning is on hold as investigators continue to examine the remains. State Police Fire Marshal John F. Burns, who spent a majority of time inside 11 South Lehigh St., collected wiring, a fish tank and a VCR to examine more closely.

All homeowners and residents managed to escape yesterday's inferno without serious injury. The fire, which also caused multiple explosions, left 11 people displaced and destroyed three vehicles. As of last night, 12 pets are dead or still unaccounted for.

The blaze, which caused more than $200,000 worth of smoke, water or heat damage to most of the homes on the block, also resulted in a brief power outage for half of Tamaqua while firefighters battled the rising flames. Six homes on the opposite side of South Lehigh St., received high heat damage as their siding melted.

Those homes were without power for over 11 hours as PPL worked to replace power lines and blown transformers.

Tamaqua Fire Department First Assistant Jim Connely said he is happy the surrounding homes were saved and a home at the end of the block only sustained smoke and water damage.

"The fire companies made a good stop," he added. "They got the protection line in place right away and they stopped it from going any more south."

Connely said that the police department got there first, and made sure everyone was out of the homes. It made the firefighters' jobs easier because they could concentrate on putting out the fire, instead of going inside and looking for residents.

Responding were Rapid Intervention Teams from Summit Hill and Lansford and fire companies from Tamaqua, Coaldale, Lansford, Pottsville, Hometown, West Penn, Nesquehoning and others. Ambulances from Tamaqua, Lansford and Quakake also responded.

Harold Moseley, who lives at 15 South Lehigh St., and suffered the least damage, was thankful for the quick response by fire crews.

"I feel sorry for Kevin (Kellner). He lost a nice little puppy. They were like kids to him," Moseley said.

Moseley gave credit to his granddaughter for getting him to safety.

"I was in the bed sleeping, so I put my pants on real quick, put my slippers on and I came out and it was really blazing," added Moseley.

Michael Sedlock, of 13 South Lehigh St., was forced to escape barefoot. His home, also lived-in by Shaleen Hoben, suffered water, smoke and outside fire damage. Hoben heard the screams of a neighbor, and ran to safety. There was nothing she could do as she watched the flames move toward, and eventually damage her home.

Four of their cats and one dog are still missing.

"I couldn't cry," said Hoben. "I couldn't do nothing. I was in such shock."

The fire originated on the first floor of 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.

It was a scary 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.

One of their dogs was found, but most of their cats are still missing.

Nine South Lehigh St, which was unoccupied, also received substantial damage from the fire.

Living at 7 South Lehigh St. were John Bowman and his son, William Bowman. They managed to save their dog, but lost two pickup trucks that caught fire in front of the homes.

"I couldn't come out the front door. I had to go out the back and once I got out the back, I couldn't see nothing," William Bowman said.

Bowman, who has owned his home for 14 years, said he lost everything he had, and he's thankful he didn't lose his life.

Kevin Kellner, who lived at 5 South Lehigh St., saved one dog but another, a brown Shelby, is still unaccounted for.

Many of the neighbors were also confused that they didn't hear any fire whistle go off.

Gin Bowman, family member of one of the victims commented, "If it wasn't for a concerned passerby, my family wouldn't be here today. Where were the fire whistles!", added Bowman.

"I am disappointed that the fire whistles are turned off," witness Justin Startzel said, "because now there is no way to warn people." He also pointed out that some firefighters don't rely solely on pagers.

Cory McGeehan, who lives directly across the street from the fire, burned his arm while using a garden hose to protect his neighbors' homes.

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.

The Tamaqua Volunteer group donated hoagies and refreshments to the victims, firefighters and fire police throughout the day. Local businesses, such as Hope's Mini-Mart, also donated.

All of the neighbors and their family members stated their appreciation to the emergency responders and neighbors that were quick to help them.

A Tamaqua Salvation Army 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.

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