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North Franklin Street fire claims woman's life, leaves multiple people homeless, damages 9 homes

SHAMOKIN — A five-alarm fire Tuesday morning in the first block of North Franklin Street claimed the life of a young woman, injured her boyfriend, left multiple people homeless and damaged nine properties.

The blaze broke out at 5:45 a.m., claiming the life of Brea Scandle, 23, of 16 N. Franklin St., due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Scandle’s identity was confirmed Tuesday night by Northumberland County Coroner James F. Kelley.

Scandle, a daughter of Shamokin Treasurer and Tax Collector Brenda Scandle and Bob Scandle, was pronounced dead at the scene by Northumberland County Chief Deputy Coroner James Gotlob, who arrived at the scene about 7 a.m.

Scandle’s live-in boyfriend, Jarred Cortlessa, reportedly suffered smoke inhalation in the fire and was transported by AREA Services ambulance to Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital, where he underwent emergency room treatment before being released.

The couple just recently moved into the home, according to neighbors.

Two cats in 14 N. Franklin St. and a dog at 16 N. Franklin St. also perished in the blaze.

The fire spread quickly to adjacent row homes along the narrow one-way street.

Shamokin Fire Investigator and Patrolman Raymond Siko II, who inspected the scene with state police fire marshals Cpl. Nicholas Lafrado and Tyler Watson and they’re confident they’ve identified the cause, nature and origin of the fire, but are not releasing that information at this point of the ongoing investigation.

The fire destroyed 14, 16, and 18 N. Franklin St. and caused damage to properties at 10, 12, 20, 22, 24 and 26 N. Franklin St.

In addition to Cortlessa, left homeless were Barry and Denise Getchey, of 14 N. Franklin St.; Victor Rutkowski, of 18 N. Franklin St.; Kayla Schell, of 12 N. Franklin St., and Michelle Dormer, of 10 N. Franklin St.

Siko said Ken Bogutski resides at 26 N. Franklin St., which sustained smoke damage.

Properties at 20, 22 and 24 N. Franklin St. are vacant.

Heavy smoke and flames greeted firefighters as they arrived on scene and began attacking the blaze from aerial trucks and the ground. As city and Coal Township firefighters feverishly attempted to extinguish the blaze by cutting holes in the rooftops for ventilation, smoke continued to pour out of the eaves. Flames later could be seen coming from the roofs and porches of some of the houses.

A siren was activated at 6:41 a.m. to alert firefighters to exit the buildings as fire conditions worsened inside.

The fire, which attracted a large crowd, stunned neighbors as news of Scandle’s death quickly spread.

“It’s heartbreaking,” commented Rutkowski, who has lived at 18 N. Franklin St. for 15 years.

Rutkowski said he was sleeping when the fire broke out. He said Amanda Wheary, a firefighter with Friendship Fire Co., which is located about two blocks away on Rock Street, woke him up and rescued him from any harm.

Shamokin Mayor John Brown, an active firefighter, added, “Any time a fire hits the city, it’s bad. But when there is a death involved, it’s really tragic. I’m at a loss for words right now knowing who the victim was.”

Shamokin Councilman Scott Roughton, director of public safety, interim code enforcement officer and firefighter, said, “The conditions were very bad inside 16 and 14 N. Franklin St. I could see heavy smoke from my home on Bunker Hill when I heard the call and I knew it was bad. The fire had a good start. I want to thank all city firefighters and rescue personnel and the multiple mutual aid units who assisted at the fire.”

Brenda and Bob Scandle, who frantically arrived on scene about 6:30 a.m., became very distraught and emotional upon learning of their daughter’s death before quickly being consoled by fire chiefs, police, friends and family members.

Although deeply saddened by the loss of their neighbor and their homes, other fire victims were grateful they were able to escape unharmed.

Bill Dudeck, of Shamokin, who owns 8 N. Franklin St., praised all the firefighters from the different communities for responding to the blaze.

The fire was declared under control at 8:40 a.m. Firefighters remained at the scene until the afternoon as family members and friends of the fire victims secured the fire-ravaged homes.

Siko said he didn’t know if the owners and occupants of the properties were insured. He also wasn’t sure how many of the residents were home when the fire started.

PPL employees were summoned to cut power to the damaged properties.

In addition to Franklin Street, Chestnut and Race streets, which surround the fire scene, were blocked off to traffic for several hours by fire police.

Directing firefighting efforts at the scene were fire chief Bruce Rogers, assistant chief Steve Jeffery, deputy chief Ken Pilkus and battalion chief Lester Yohe.

Siko, Shamokin Police Chief Darwin Tobias III, who helped battle the blaze as a firefighter, and Cpl. Bryan Primerano also assisted.

In addition to Shamokin and Coal Township fire and rescue units, firefighters and emergency personnel from Kulpmont, Mount Carmel, Mount Carmel Township, Elysburg, Sunbury, and Schuylkill, Snyder and Columbia counties responded to the fire.

Staff from the American Red Cross assisted in helping the homeless secure shelter if needed. Some of the fire victims found shelter with family members or friends.

A special city council meeting that was scheduled for Tuesday night was canceled out of respect for Brenda Scandle and her family.


Brea Scandle


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SHECP Program Interns are here to help this community

Six skilled, educated and motivated young students converged upon Northumberland County this summer as part of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP) program.

The eight-week program pairs students with nonprofit organizations that work to strengthen distressed communities. Students are matched with agencies that fit their intellectual interests in order to develop professional experience and skills for future civic involvement and employment.

Students taking part in the program live with fellow interns within the communities they serve. SHECP covers the expenses of the interns, affording the local organizations the benefit of summer labor at no cost. Housing for this particular group was provided at the Franciscan Center in Coal Township.

Those taking part in the SHECP program dedicated to this area over the summer are Shawn Li, Victoria Yeh, Sean Mack, Elspeth Suber, Olivia Burke and Mariel Edokwe.

Li and Yeh have been stationed at City Hall in Shamokin, each with different objectives.

Li, who was lauded by Mayor John Brown for his strong intellect and attention to detail, aided with the organization of ordinances within Shamokin City Hall.

Li said that he’d likely gone through 20 years worth of documentation during his time here this summer. He also has spent time communicating with those in the local business community while also composing a strategic plan for potential redevelopment.

Li is very worldly, having been born in China, went to high school in Boston and is now studying at the University of Wisconsin.

“I enjoyed working with everyone at city hall and discussing different ways in which to modernize local ordinances,” said Li.

Yeh, on the other hand, worked with City Administrator Robert Slaby on a voter outreach program. The 21-year-old student, who studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, had a specific aim in surveying Shamokin residents and potential voters regarding their opinions, concerns and questions regarding Act 47 and Home Rule.

She noted she greatly enjoyed interacting with locals during her time in the city.

“I like meeting new people with different outlooks on life,” she said. “These past eight weeks have proved to be very beneficial.”

Yeh added that she hoped for an increased awareness and interest in local political issues among those living in Shamokin.

“For things to move forward — people must first participate, whether that means voting or voicing their concerns so that the city can work toward addressing them,” she said.

Mack, 25, who hails from Virginia Beach, Virgina, and studies at Berea College in Kentucky, had the opportunity to shadow patrolmen at the Shamokin Police Department.

The primary focus of Mack’s internship was to examine the opioid problems of the area. Mack interviewed local physicians and received their opinions on issues such as drug use in the area, as well as medical marijuana and its role in helping patients.

Mack was able to visit Gaudenzia Coal Township in his eight weeks here and he was very impressed with the facility and feels it could really help things out considerably.

“Gaudenzia will likely be a terrific aid in helping curb drug-related issues here,” he said.

Mack said he learned a great deal in his time shadowing the officers and strongly commended their daily efforts.

“They have so much on their plate, always hard-working despite being understaffed,” he said.

Mack said he has a long-term goal of becoming a pastor/chaplain and that seeing the intense situations the police deal with every day was eye-opening.

Suber, 20, of Tallahassee, Florida, interned at Central Susquehanna Opportunities (CSO) at the Northumberland County Career and Arts Center in Shamokin. Suber is studying at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

Suber’s worked with CSO in an effort to expand their marketing and further open eyes to their existence.

“Everyone at CSO works to help families become more self-sufficient,” said Suber. “They have established trust with their clients — that through word of mouth, people understand and know that CSO is a safe environment with a strong reputation for helping people.”

Suber, who seeks to have a career in community action, shadowed case-workers, volunteered at the local food pantry, helped with local golf tourney, aided CSO in moving to a sister office in Bloomsburg and more.

Her goals in taking part in the SHECP program were to work with a non-profit that cares about their local community. She said that CSO is the embodiment of such a thing.

Burke, 20, of Center College in Kentucky, and Edokwe, 21, of Middlebury College in Vermont, interned at North-Penn Legal Services in Sunbury.

Burke said the experience has been both exciting and rewarding.

She said that interning at North-Penn afforded herself and Edokwe opportunities to sit in on hearings, meet judges and allowed for a firmer reality of the legal system through being right in the mix.

“I definitely sought out working with a law firm in some capacity and the SHECP program and North-Penn has allowed me to have a positive learning experience,” Burke said.

Burke added that it was great meeting with and sharing experiences with the other SHECP program interns.

“We all bring different strengths to the table,” she said.

SHECP was formally established as a nonprofit organization in July 2012. The curriculum for SHECP begins with gateway coursework at each respective students’ home institution, followed by community-focused learning opportunities through the SHECP Summer Internship program.

“Shepherd” honors the philanthropy of Tom and Nancy Shepherd, who are founding benefactors of a prototype of the program that was developed at Washington and Lee University.

The SHECP programs credo is “Learning by Doing” and it was most certainly lived up to by these skilled students who paid our area a visit this last 8 weeks.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO 

Children sprint at the 28th annual youth track camp held by the Mount Carmel Area High School track and field team. A total of 136 children in kindergarten through eighth grades from 10 school districts are attending the camp, which is run by members of the varsity team, according to organizer and coach Ana Ditchey. The four-day camp continues today and Thursday.


STEPHANIE BETTICK/STAFF PHOTO  

The sun rises as firefighters vent roofs on the first block of North Franklin Street during Tuesday’s fire.


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Relief provided to Shamokin fire victims and firefighters

SHAMOKIN — Disaster relief is being provided to nearly 10 victims who were left homeless as a result of the deadly North Franklin Street fire that occurred early Tuesday morning in the city’s Fifth Ward. Three different relief organizations were present at the scene in an effort to help all those affected by the blaze, which started shortly before 6 a.m.

Due to high air temperatures and humidity, which were magnified by the intense heat and smoke generated by the fire itself, both firefighters and victims greatly appreciated any relief they received. That relief came in many shapes and forms from a national relief organization, to a specialized fire company relief tent, a local food pantry and neighbors who acted as Good Samaritans.

Three Red Cross volunteers were at the scene, canvasing the affected area of the neighborhood and offering assistance to fire victims.

“Our American Red Cross counselors meet with each of the fire victims. They listened and talked with them, about their needs. We offer each of them a debit card, which allows them to make immediate emergency purchases,” explained Edna Reinard, disaster program specialist of the American Red Cross North Central Pennsylvania Chapter.

“We also assist them in replacing any prescription medications or critical medical equipment as quickly as possible. Pet bereavement counseling is also available for those who have lost pets through a fire or other disaster,” she added.

Reinard said that the American Red Cross continues to work with clients long after their ordeal in order to continue providing needed services, such as financial assistance and referrals to other agencies or organizations. She noted that victims seeking assistance from the Red Cross may contact her at via email at edna.reinard@redcross.org or by phone at 570-850-4664.

“We want people to know that Red Cross disaster assistance is a free gift and not something they are obligated to pay back. One of the challenges we often run into is that they feel they need to pay us back instead of just receiving the gift,” said Reinhard.

She added, “We’re currently in need of Red Cross disaster volunteers in the southwestern Northumberland County area, which includes the Shamokin and Mount Carmel communities. Our volunteers have the ability to travel as far away from their area as they’re able to and desire — it’s entirely up to them.”

In addition to the Red Cross, Danville’s Continental Fire Co. was on hand with their portable rehab tent which offers relief from the elements and much needed water.

“We dispatched three vehicles from our company to Shamokin this morning — our Ladder 19, Rehab 31, Squad 35,” said Danville Asst. Fire Chief Joseph Miller. “Our rehab tent is a trailer with an inflatable tent which we can setup quickly with cooling fans, chairs, coolers with ice and bottled water. We were at the scene Tuesday with a team of eight, assisting firefighters and victims from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.”

Miller said that his company typically responds to calls throughout Montour, Northumberland and Columbia Counties. He indicated that the portable tent can be setup and operational in about 10 minutes.

God’s Chuckwagon was also at the scene to offer free food and drinks for all those in need.

“Someone told us they needed water so we loaded up the bus with water, sandwiches and snacks and took it over to them,” said Janet Bowers, who along with her husband, Pastor Jim Bowers, own and operate the mobile soup kitchen, along with volunteers.


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Ralpho Township police seeking identity in Knoebels theft

ELYSBURG — Ralpho Township police are seeking assistance in identifying two people believed to have stolen three iPhones and $200 in cash from purses Tuesday at Knoebels Amusement Resort.

According to police, patrons were riding the Looper and at the direction of the staff, placed a purse and cell phones near the exit.

Two individuals grabbed the purse and phones and took off through the park, discarding the purse in a bathroom trash receptacle behind Cesari’s Pizza.

The actors are described as two African Americans, possibly in their late teens or early 20s with afro style hair. Both were wearing black shorts, one with a gray tank top and the other with a short tank top, possibly a sports bra. The gender of the actors is unknown.

Anyone with information as to the identities or whereabouts of these individuals are asked to contact the Ralpho Township Police Department at 570-672-9892 or the Northumberland County Communications Center at 570-648-3868.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO 

The Anthracite Symphonic Band holds a rehearsal Tuesday at the Northumberland County Career and Arts Center in preparation for a concert 7 p.m. Thursday. The concert will feature arrangements from such musicals as “West Side Story,” Jekyll and Hyde” and "Ragtime.”