Chief: Fire too intense to go after trapped occupant

Published: 1/10/2017 11:32 AM
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By Larry Deklinski

HUNTER STATION — Northumberland County Coroner James Kelley has confirmed one person died in an overnight fire in Zerbe Township that left seven other people displaced.

The two-alarm fire at 919 Sunshine Road, Lot 10, a wood-frame house, was reported at 2:53 a.m.

Trevorton Fire Co. Chief Edwin Reed said as the fire truck raced along Route 225 to the scene, he looked over Coal Hill and saw a giant ball of fire. By the time the crew had made its way to the patch of homes, the house was fully engulfed in flames.

Reed said the initial call reported two people trapped. At the scene, he was told one person remained inside, and she was believed to be in a bedroom/laundry room built onto the original structure. Firefighters attempted to enter the building, but were held back due to the intense flames, he said.

Within minutes of Reed's arrival, the one-story structure collapsed into the basement, he said.

A neighbor with a house overlooking the fire scene said the body of the woman was recovered from the bedroom/laundry room. 

Kelley is withholding the woman's identity pending notification of next of kin, but said she died of smoke inhalation.

"I wish the outcome was a little bit different," Reed said.

An adult woman and three children were taken to the hospital for treatment. 

At home at the time of the fire were Crystal, 39, David, 46, and Courtney Weikel, 20, Matthew Smithey, 23, a 10-year-old girl, an 8-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, said Trooper Kirk Renn, fire marshal with state police at Milton.

EMTs were seen escorting two children without shoes and wearing just night clothes, to an ambulance. One child appeared to have soot covering her face, but appeared otherwise unhurt.

Reed said a fire chief with his department suffered a shoulder injury when he slipped on ice and fell. 

Sub-freezing temperatures coupled with the location of the home made the fire difficult to battle, Reed said. Sunshine Road is a mostly rough, mountainous road that runs from Route 225 at Coal Hill just west of Trevorton, to Dunkelbergers, a patch of homes just north of Hunter Station.

No public water runs to the neighborhood, so tanker trucks had to travel approximately 6-mile round trip to fill up at the closest hydrant, located in front of Hannah's Restaurant at the edge of Trevorton, Reed said.

Firefighters considered tapping a nearby pond for water but found it inaccessible because of deep mud and frozen conditions, he said. Ice rapidly formed at the fire scene, causing slippery conditions.

"We had engines freezing up due to cold weather," Reed said. 

The fire was brought under control sometime between 4 and 4:30 a.m., he said. He did not leave the scene until 10 a.m.

Renn estimated damage at the home totaled $150,000. The property is owned by George Stiely, 82, of 153 Hart Road, Shamokin.

Renn said the large amount of damage will likely make it difficult to determine an exact cause, but that his investigation will continue. He believes the point of origin was a first floor bedroom on the south side of the home, which matches the location the neighbor gave of the bedroom/laundry room.

Renn said Tuesday morning he hadn't observed anything suspicious at the scene.

A neighbor at 929 Sunshine Road saw a large glow when he looked out the window. The man, who did not provide a name, was concerned about sparks igniting his home that is located diagonally from the burning home. At one point, he said, the flames were 40 to 50 feet high.

Flames caused electrical meters and a utility pole some 20 feet away from the home to catch fire. A Jeep parked behind the home was also destroyed. Other neighbors reported hearing several small propane tanks explode.

“I wanted to make sure my kids were out,” the neighbor said. “It went up quick. Within five minutes it was unbearable heat. When it is flaming like that sparks could carry onto another house.”

Responding were firefighters from several communities, including Trevorton, Shamokin, Coal Township, Ralpho Township, Stonington, East Cameron Township and Herndon.

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