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Pottsville mourns its losses

  • ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS Sympathy keepsakes litter the front steps to a Pottsville home where four children and two adults lost their lives to a fast-moving fire late Mother's Day night.
    ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS Sympathy keepsakes litter the front steps to a Pottsville home where four children and two adults lost their lives to a fast-moving fire late Mother's Day night.
Published May 14. 2013 05:02PM

A generous display of stuffed animals, sympathy cards, flowers and candles sit in front of 235 Pierce St. in Pottsville, as family, friends and community members mourn the loss of four children and two adults killed late Sunday night after flames tore through the three-story home.

The story appeared in Monday's TIMES NEWS.

Jeff Kuhlwind, who was sitting at his computer, looked out his window and saw nothing but pitch black. He said he then went outside and saw rising flames coming from the back of the second floor of 235 Pierce St.

"Help me. Help me," said Kuhlwind of 232 Pierce Street as he described what he heard before calling 911 twice Sunday night. "It's a fire. Get the trucks up here now. There's people trapped inside," said Kuhwind to the dispatcher.

Killed in the fire were Eric Brown, 30, and his children Elijah Brown, 2; Emily Brown, 3; Jeremiah Brown, 7; and Joy Brown, 8. Also killed was Christina Thomas, 26, the children's aunt and sister-in-law of Eric Brown.

Schuylkill County Deputy Coroner Joseph Pothering said that Eric and Jerimiah Brown were both found in a third-floor front bedroom, while Emily Brown was found in a third-floor middle bedroom. He said Joy Brown was found on the third floor to the rear of the home; adding that Christina Thomas was found partially out of a rear window.

Jennifer Purcell, 36, of 226 Pierce St., said Kelly Brown, 28, the children's mother, was at her house across the street doing laundry when the fire started. At first, the two smelled smoke and thought it was the clothes dryer. They later looked outside and saw the flames rising from the back of 235 Pierce St.

"Oh, my God. It's your house," Purcell said to Brown, as both women ran frantically to the house.

Purcell said flames were shooting out of the building and the back roof was already collapsing.

"She just kept screaming, 'My kids. My kids. My husband. My sister,' " said Purcell.

Purcell said Brown went inside the home but a police officer pulled her out.

Witnesses and neighbors on scene pointed out that Pierce Street was the location of multiple fires over the past 20 years. A neighbor said a home on the 600 block burned down about 10 years ago.

Another neighbor said three children were killed during another house fire in March of 1993 at a Pierce Street home located one block from Sunday's fire. That fire, which occurred after a major snowstorm dumped 16 inches of snow, claimed the lives of two young children, Edward Santai, 3, and Nicholai Santai, 5, in their 417 Pierce St. home.

The American Red Cross Schuylkill County Chapter assisted in providing assistance to Kelly Brown and other neighbors affected. Brown is said to be staying with a cousin on North George Street in Pottsville.

Tim Firestone, Readiness and Response manager for the chapter, said clothing and food have been given to Brown. He added that psychological services are also available.

A state police fire marshal was on scene of Sunday's fire most of the day investigating the blaze. Pottsville Fire Chief Todd March, said that investigators found no evidence of smoke alarms inside the home and that if alarms were installed and working, it may have given the victims a chance to get out of the home.

"In my 37 years as chief, this blaze was the worst loss of life I've seen from a fire," said March, adding that the last time someone died in a fire in the city was approximately six years ago.

Although a wood/coal burning stove was in the area, it is not known if that was the cause of the fire. March said investigators are examining several other possibilities as well. He added that it was too soon to determine the cause of the fire.

Stephanie Brown, a relative of the family, said a fund in Kelly Brown's name has been created at Wells Fargo Bank. Any Wells Fargo branch will accept donations to Account No. 2678703436.

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