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Fire and guns

  • ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS Firefighters deal with heavy smoke, congested rooms and exploding ammunition as they battle a house fire that started late Saturday night in New Philadelphia.
    ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS Firefighters deal with heavy smoke, congested rooms and exploding ammunition as they battle a house fire that started late Saturday night in New Philadelphia.
Published October 24. 2011 05:03PM

A man is in critical condition following a house fire that closed SR209 in New Philadelphia for more than 16 hours Saturday night into Sunday afternoon.

Just after 11 p.m. Saturday, more than 200 firefighters from 12 surrounding fire departments responded to a fully-engulfed house fire at 220 Valley St. (SR209), located at the intersection of Cooper Street in New Philadelphia.

After being pulled out of his home by neighbors, John Marcavage, 51, was flown to Lehigh Valley Hospital, Cedar Crest, for treatment of severe burns that covered about 90 percent of his body, 55 percent of which were third-degree burns.

Found in the home were 134 firearms, a lot of ammunition, as well as a lot of coins, cash and other types of collectibles that were recovered.

Firefighters found it hard to control the blaze as they dealt with exploding ammunition, heavy smoke and congested areas of the dilapidated home. Fire officials also stated that a large amount of hoarded items in the home made the flames a greater challenge to battle.

Witnesses stated they saw two young neighbors kick in the door to the burning home, finding Marcavage unconscious just inside the door. They then pulled him out of the smoke-filled home and started CPR.

Ed Slane, assistant fire chief in New Philadelphia, said the fire could have started anywhere in the heavily congested home.

"This was not a normal fire," he said. "Firefighters had to pull stuff out of the windows so that they could get into the house. There was so much stuff in the house."

After noticing the fire, neighbors Dave Heffner and Mark Thorn ran to the home, pulling the victim out of the home and started CPR until paramedics could arrive.

"We're just hoping that he makes it," said Thorn, a former firefighter. Another neighbor, Joe Ganunis, also assisted with pulling Marcavage out of his home.

"There were flames all around these kids and they stayed with the man," said Slane. "It makes you feel good to see the younger generation getting involved and even risking their lives to help people."

Heffner, a longtime resident, said he thought the house was vacant. Thorn said he only remembers seeing Marcavage once or twice in the past few years. Other neighbors also said they didn't often see Marcavage and referred to him as a loner.

Witnesses on the scene said they called him the "midnight mechanic," as he would only seem to come out at night to work on his older Ford classic car, which was parked in front of the home.

After razing the home around 5 a.m. Sunday, state police, New Philadelphia Police and firefighters spent almost 10 more hours searching the high debris pile for items of concern or value. Officials used borough trucks and police vehicles to transport the weapons, coins and other valuables to secure areas. Firefighters had to create a daisy chain of volunteers to remove hundreds of pounds of items from the rubble pile.

Some items recovered consisted of rifles, pistols, toy water guns, ammunition, knives, silverware, stamps, newspapers, photo slides, coins, cash and other items.

New Philadelphia Police are remaining on site until further excavating and searching can be done.

Neighbors said that Marcavage kept to himself, but the fire and the things found in the home were a shock to them.

"It is very scary to know that happened right in your neighborhood," said Susan Schroding. "It's a shame. I don't really know the guy, but it still makes me really emotional to see somebody lose their home and be in as bad a shape as he's in right now."

"I'm definitely praying for him," said neighbor Lori Webber.

State police from the Frackville barracks and a representative from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were still on scene Sunday morning going through the debris before the investigation was handed back to the fire department with no criminal charges to be filed.

Responding were fire departments from New Philadelphia, Kaska, Port Carbon, Tuscarora, Walker Township, Tamaqua, Pottsville, Mahanoy City, Schuylkill Haven, St. Clair, Middleport and Cumbola. A state police fire marshal is still investigating the cause of the fire.

The New Philadelphia Halloween Parade, scheduled for Sunday afternoon, had to be canceled due to the long road closure. The cause of the fire remains undetermined.

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