NESCOPECK, Pa. (AP) – A fire spread rapidly at a home in northeastern Pennsylvania early Friday morning, killing seven adults and three children and frightening a volunteer firefighter, who had arrived only to search for victims, as they left their homes. It was the same family, the officials said.
The Pennsylvania State Police said in a news release that the children who died were ages 5, 6 and 7, while the seven adults ranged from their late teens to a 79-year-old man. The autopsy was planned for this weekend.
Harold Baker, a volunteer firefighter in the city of Nescope, said his son, daughter, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives were among the 10 victims. He said his two children and other young victims were going to their aunt and uncle’s house for swimming and other summer fun.
He said there were also 13 dogs in the two-storey house, but did not say whether he knew whether any had survived.
“All I wanted to do was go out there and meet these people, my family. That’s all I was thinking about them,” Baker said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Baker grabbed a hose and air pack, and began pouring water over the fire, desperate to go inside and calling for his son. His chief realized whose house it was, and fellow firefighters escorted Baker back to the firehouse.
Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce said Friday evening that preliminary investigations suggest the fire started in the front porch around 2:30 p.m.
“I have information that the fire started and progressed very quickly, making it very difficult to get out,” he said.
Sanguedolce said three people managed to escape the fire. Four state police fire marshals are involved in the investigation, although it would not be classified as a criminal investigation unless they determine that the fire was intentionally started, he said.
Nescopec is a small town on the Susquehanna River, about 20 miles southwest of Wilkes-Barre. The house was largely owner-occupied, on a residential street of single family homes.
Baker said the address initially given for the call was a neighborhood home. As the fire truck arrived, he realized that it was the residence of his family members. He said his unit was the first, and the house was already engulfed in flames.
“There was nothing we could do to get there. We tried, but we couldn’t get in,” said 57-year-old Baker, who has been a firefighter for 40 years.
His son, 19-year-old Dale Baker, entered the fire service after both his parents had died when he was 16.
Harold Baker said, “He said it his whole life, he was just going to be like his father.”
Nescopek Volunteer Fire Company secretary Heidi Knorr called Dale Baker “such a fun-loving soul. He just loved life.”
“The family is always ready to help anyone in need,” Knorr said. Dale’s mother was not among the dead listed by Harold Baker.
Mike Swank, who lives two doors away across the street, said he awoke early Friday and looked outside after hearing a loud explosion. He noticed that the porch was “really going” and went outside, using another neighbor’s hose to keep the fire from spreading to the garage.
“I saw two people outside and they were in different states of mania,” Swank told the AP over the phone.
A man was on the cellphone, “and I’m trying to ask him if everyone is out,” he said. “The other guy was out in the street and he was just going around in circles.”
Swank said he had not been able to obtain information from them. A fence prevented him from going to the back of the property.
Baker said there were 14 people living in the house. One was distributing a newspaper and three others fled.
Swank said the family had moved in under a rent-to-own agreement a few months ago, and spent a lot of time on the cluttered front porch.
“It was so loud and so much smoke, you just knew nobody was going to put it out there,” Swank said. They observed that till the dead body was found, dogs were being used to search the spot.
Scolforo and Brooke Schultz reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Schultz is a core member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. report for america is a non-profit national service program that hires journalists in local newsrooms to report on secret issues.