‘Sus­pi­cious’ blaze leaves 11 home­less

A West Ha­zle­ton apart­ment build­ing was de­stroyed in a fast-mov­ing fire.

The Citizens' Voice - - LOCAL - BY SAM GALSKI Staff Writer Con­tact the writer: sgal­[email protected]­dard­speaker.com 570-501-3586

WEST HA­ZLE­TON — One fire­fighter suf­fered sec­ond­de­gree burns bat­tling a blaze that de­stroyed an apart­ment build­ing and chased 11 ten­ants into the cold at North Fourth and East Green streets Satur­day night, the bor­ough’s fire chief said.

A state po­lice fire mar­shal is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cause of a fire that tore through a five­u­nit apart­ment build­ing at 101-103 E. Green St. at 8:26 p.m. Satur­day, West Ha­zle­ton Fire Chief Richard Sparks said.

Fire­fight­ers from three coun­ties re­sponded to the blaze and worked for about 2½ hours to get fast-spread­ing flames un­der con­trol, Sparks said.

The fire spread rapidly due to the bal­loon fram­ing of the build­ing and false ceil­ings, Sparks said. Cold tem­per­a­tures caused lines and equip­ment to freeze, he said.

“We had a dif­fi­cult time get­ting wa­ter into the voids and spa­ces,” he said.

Crews that first ar­rived on scene were greeted with heavy flames, and Sparks said fire­fight­ers were or­dered out of the build­ing when part of the third floor be­gan col­laps­ing after about a half-hour after crews be­gan fight­ing the blaze. Fire­fight­ers used hoses and three lad­der trucks while at­tack­ing flames from the ex­te­rior.

“This was the most spec­tac­u­lar fire we’ve had in the bor­ough for years,” Sparks said Sun­day while sur­vey­ing the scene. “We had very heavy fire con­di­tions upon ar­rival.”

Fire­fight­ers and bor­ough po­lice res­cued one woman from the first floor of the 103 side of the build­ing, Sparks said. The woman ini­tially re­fused to leave and couldn’t find her way out after re­al­iz­ing the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion, he said. Emer­gency re­spon­ders who con­ducted an ini­tial search of the build­ing led her to safety.

None of the 11 ten­ants were in­jured, but Sparks said that one fire­fighter from Ha­zle­ton City suf­fered sec­ond-de­gree burns to his ears and neck. He was treated at Le­high Val­ley Hospi­talHa­zle­ton and “will be OK,” Sparks said.

Al­though of­fi­cials are in­ves­ti­gat­ing a cause, Sparks said that the ori­gin ap­pears “sus­pi­cious.” A state po­lice fire mar­shal was on scene Sun­day and worked with bor­ough po­lice to col­lect ev­i­dence, the chief said. Sparks said that of­fi­cials didn’t spend too much time in­side the build­ing Sun­day due to struc­tural con­cerns, but said in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined that the fire started on the sec­ond floor on the 103 side.

Charred re­mains of the build­ing, in­clud­ing rem­nants of a chim­ney, are “quite un­sta­ble,” the chief said.

Code En­force­ment Of­fi­cer Diane Pan­zarella con­demned the build­ing on Sun­day, and an in­sur­ance com­pany boarded the prop­erty to keep peo­ple out, Sparks said.

Sparks ex­pressed grat­i­tude for the lo­cal Amer­i­can Red Cross, which put most of the 11 ten­ants up at lo­cal mo­tels. One or two of the ten­ants stayed with neigh­bors, he said. Red Cross of­fi­cials also pro­vided food and cof­fee for fire­fight­ers while the Fourth Street Pub, which is about a half-block from the apart­ment build­ing, opened its doors and pro­vided cof­fee and food for the ten­ants, he said.

The apart­ment build­ing is owned by res­i­dents of Brook­lyn, New York, who Sparks de­scribed as “good peo­ple” who ex­pressed re­morse when learn­ing of the blaze.

None of the ten­ants had renter’s in­sur­ance.

Sparks said the build­ing must be de­mol­ished.

Fire­fight­ers from Ha­zle­ton, Hazle Twp., Mca­doo, Free­land, Su­gar­loaf Twp., Val­ley Re­gional and Le­high & Lau­sanne fire com­pa­nies as­sisted West Ha­zle­ton fire crews. Le­high Val­ley EMS and Su­gar­loaf Twp. EMS also re­sponded.

Fire­fight­ers re­mained on scene un­til about 3:45 a.m. Sun­day. Bor­ough crews were called back to the apart­ment build­ing after po­lice no­tice smoke at around 4:50 a.m. Sun­day, Sparks said. Crews used a lad­der truck to make quick work of a hot spot early Sun­day, he said.

SAM GALSKI / Staff PHOTO

Of­fi­cials are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cause of a fire that gut­ted an apart­ment build­ing at 101-103 E. Green St. in West Ha­zle­ton.

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