A house fire described as “violent” and “severe” in northeastern Pennsylvania early Friday morning killed 10 people, including several relatives of a firefighter who responded, officials and a firefighter said.
Pennsylvania State Police said three children, ages 5, 6 and 7, were among those killed in the fire in Nescopeck, about 45 miles southwest of Scranton. The other victims ranged in age from 19 to 79, officials said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. State police said three people managed to escape safely.
Harold Baker, a firefighter with the Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Company, was asleep early Friday when he was awakened by the beeping of a pager reporting a house fire that may have trapped 10 people.
Mr Baker rushed to the station and was one of the first firefighters on the scene. As he turned the corner, his heart stopped, he said in a phone interview Friday night. He was given the wrong address. He said his son Dale, 19, and daughter Star, 22, were inside the house engulfed in flames. In fact, Mr Baker said he knew everyone in the two-storey house, which belonged to his brother-in-law, who managed to escape.
“I tried to get in as quickly as possible,” he said. “I tried three times, and then they realized whose house it was and why I was trying to get there, and ripped me off,” he said of his colleagues. “They said, ‘No, you have to get out of here.’
After finding Dale, a volunteer firefighter who had followed in his father’s footsteps, Mr. Baker’s colleagues placed a flag over his body. “They took him out as a fallen firefighter,” he said.
Star Baker, who was to be married next year, also did not survive, Mr. Baker said, adding that he was related to eight of the 10 people who died in the fire.
Violet Kessler of Berwick, Pa., said she was involved with many of the deaths.
Among the family members she claimed to have lost were her father, brother, sister-in-law, nephew and a niece who was her goddaughter. She said some family members were visiting Thursday and planned to spend the day together Friday at the pool and decided to stay the night at home.
“I don’t even understand things,” she said of the loss. “I don’t even know how to take it all into my brain. It’s like a dream.”
Neighbor Michael Swank said he woke up around 2:30 a.m. and heard noises that he thought at first were gunshots. He looked outside and saw that the porch of the house across the street was engulfed in flames. He said the sounds he heard sounded like paint cans or propane tanks catching fire and exploding.
“I knew the fire department wouldn’t be able to save the occupants of the house in time,” Mr. Swank said. He said he neither heard nor saw any activity to indicate that anyone was trying to escape the fire.
“Boy, it was just a terrible fire,” which quickly spread from the porch to the upper floors, he said, adding, “It was hell. God bless those children who were there. They had no prayer.”
In addition to Dale Baker and Star Baker, State Police identified the dead adults as 79-year-old David Daubert Sr. Brian Daubert, 42; Shannon Daubert, 45; Laura Daubert, 47; and Marian Slusser, 54.
Mr. Swank said that tenants rarely lived in the houses for more than a year or two.
Kirsten Noyes contributed to the research.