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Update: Woman identified in fatal Lake Harmony blast

  • BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Firefighters go through debris n Lake Harmony.
    BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Firefighters from several departments go through debris looking for hot spots after a house explodes in Lake Harmony.
Published November 05. 2013 12:32PM

The woman killed in the Lake Harmony explosion Monday has been identified as Melissa Barwis, 29, of Albrightsville.

Kidder Township Police investigated the explosion at 5 Tobyhanna Street in Lake Harmony.

The result of the fire investigation showed a propane gas explosion occurred as a result of a damaged propane line within the crawl space area of the home.

The state police fire marshal indicated that it was likely caused by an electrical appliance within the home. The explosion/ fire was ruled accidental.

Around 2 p.m. Monday afternoon calls starting pouring into Carbon County 911 with reports of an explosion and fire in Lake Harmony Estates in Kidder Township.

"We heard an explosion and it rocked the building," said Todd Tobias, chef at the Terra Cottage restaurant located at the intersection of North and South Lake Drive in Lake Harmony. "We went outside and we could see black smoke rising from over the trees."

A home located on Tobyhanna Street, just north of North Lake Drive, was fully engulfed in flames when Lake Harmony Fire Chief Ralph Lennon arrived on the scene.

The home, which had collapsed in on itself, was unrecognizable. The trees were strewn with debris. Windows were blown across the street. All that was left standing was a hot tub.

A man, Bruce Barberio, was rescued by a neighbor. Sheryl Davis, the next door neighbor, found Barberio in the garage and dragged him out. He was flown to Lehigh Valley Hospital. A hospital spokesman said no information is available on his condition.

"The ambulance already had one victim ready for transport when I arrived," Lennon said.

Davis fell at the scene and was taken to the hospital by her sister, Kidder Township Police Chief Matt Kuzma said. Her condition is not known.

Searching the rubble

An excavator was brought in immediately to assist with the search for a victim trapped in the rubble. Search dogs were brought to the scene. According to Carbon County Coroner Bruce Nalesnik, the 30-year-old woman was found at 4:37 p.m. in what officials believe to be the basement.

An autopsy was performed this morning at Lehigh Valley Hospital. Nalesnik said dental records will be used to confirm her identity.

The victims were caretakers of the house, police said.

State Police Fire Marshal Jamie Sgarlet said he will be looking at a number of things today to try to find the cause. Kuzma said someone broke into the house in October and stole copper piping, but township officials could not confirm at press time if the pipes had been fixed.

Sgarlet pointed out that the home was serviced by propane, but said it is too early to determine the cause.

Kuzma said Barberio's account of what happened was not clear.

Fighting the fire

There were difficulties with fighting the fire.

"The building was already fully involved (when fire crews arrived). There was no saving the structure," Lennon said.

No fire hydrants are located in the area and water is pumped from the lake into tankers. The number of tankers responding could not be filled quickly enough from Lake Harmony, which meant that some tankers had to drive off to other locations to be refilled.

Additionally, Tobyhanna Street is a narrow, one-way street, which made it difficult for the larger tankers to maneuver.

There are three fire companies operating in Kidder Township. Lake Harmony Volunteer Fire Company is located less than a mile from the scene of the fire. Kidder Township Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 and Albrightsville Volunteer Fire Company also responded.

Additional units responded from Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 and No. 2, Tunkhannock Volunteer Fire Company in Long Pond and Tobyhanna Volunteer Fire Company in Pocono Pines.

"These guys all worked together great," Lennon said. "They really come together when you need them."

At 10 a.m. today, the remains were still smoldering. One witness described the scene as "a trash pit on fire."

Reporters Amy Miller, Ron Gower and Den McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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