Woman dies in furious fire, 7 others escape from Zerbe Township home

Published: 1/11/2017 11:00 AM
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BY LARRY DEKLINSKI AND SARAH DESANTIS

TREVORTON — A woman died in a house fire in a mountainous area of Zerbe Township early Tuesday as seven other occupants escaped the home.

Another woman and three children were taken to the hospital for treatment following the 2:53 a.m. blaze at 919 Sunshine Road, Lot 10, about three miles west of here.

As firefighters battled flames that a neighbor estimated were at one point 40 to 50 feet high, 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 otherwise did not seem injured.

Northumberland County Coroner James Kelley confirmed one person died of carbon monoxide inhalation but had not released a name as of Tuesday evening.

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. Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital did not have a record Tuesday of any of the adults having been admitted.

Ball of fire

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 one-story, wood-frame 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.

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

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

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.

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

Water brought in

Temperatures near 20 degrees coupled with the location of the home made the fire difficult to battle, Reed said. Sunshine Road is a mostly rough, mountainous road that connects to and runs parallel with Route 225 from Coal Hill just west of Trevorton to Dunkelbergers, a patch of homes east of Hunter Station.

No public water runs to the neighborhood, so tanker trucks had to take an approximately 6-mile round trip to fill up at the closest hydrant, located in front of Hannah’s Restaurant at the west end 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. Reed said he did not leave the scene until 10 a.m.

Neighbor concerned

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 Trevorton, Shamokin, Coal Township, Ralpho Township, Stonington, East Cameron Township and Herndon.

It was the first fatal fire in the county since Ellen Sosnoskie, 40, of Overlook, died in a blaze that started about 6 a.m. Oct. 15 at her Mountain Road home.

Tuesday’s was the third fire in three days locally, the others having occurred Sunday and Monday in Shamokin. No one was injured in those fires.

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