The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 23, 2013

Danville house fire claims the life of retired truck driver

By Karen Blackledge
The Daily Item

— DANVILLE — A retired Danville truck driver died in a fire Monday afternoon, while his wife was able to escape with their dog.

Eugene Yohn, 88, of 11 Cross St., was found lying on the floor of an enclosed side porch.

His wife, Doris, who was reported to be about his age, thought her husband was behind her, according to fire officials.

Officials said Eugene Yohn had problems with his vision and medical problems that might have kept him from escaping the fire

“It’s just a shame,” Montour County Coroner Scott Lynn said.

Lynn said Mrs. Yohn discovered the fire in the porch area where their oxygen was kept.

 “She opened the door, and it was a wall of flames,” he said.

He doubted that an autopsy would be done. He said Yohn was probably overcome by the heavy smoke from the home, an older two-story white home with green shutters.

Eugene Yohn apparently tried to leave house through a back door to the side porch.

Lynn said he listed the time of death as 2:26 p.m., which is when he arrived at the scene.

Three state fire marshals, including trooper Kirk Renn of the Milton station, were investigating the cause late Monday. They may return today to continue their investigation.

The body wasn’t found until late in the afternoon. The alarm came in at 1:23 p.m.

Danville Fire Chief Don Lutz III said the roof of the home was being removed so fire marshals could continue their investigation. He said the house was sound — “an old plank home” — but it would eventually be torn down.

He said the most recent fatal fire in Danville occurred about five years ago at the Beaver Place mid-rise. The women died about two years after the fire from her injuries.

Lutz said firefighters made numerous attempts to enter the home but couldn’t because of the flames and smoke.

“When I got here, it was fully engulfed,” said Lutz, the first firefighter at the scene.

Firefighters were able to locate an oxygen line for the victim from the front door but couldn’t get further inside because of the wall of fire, he said. Mrs. Yohn also uses oxygen.

Mrs. Yohn was sitting outside on a chair in a neighbor’s yard for some time during the fire fight. Neighbors said their dog, Toby, an older beagle, was being kept at a neighbor’s house. Mrs.Yohn was eventually moved to a Danville ambulance so she could stay warm.

“There were men trying to get in the front door, but they couldn’t get past the front door because there was so much smoke. By the time I ran down the alley it was engulfed,” said Haleigh Allen, a college student home on break, who lives a block away on Railroad Street. She and her mother, Kathy Ashton, said their house faces the Yohn home at Cross and Steeb streets.

“We’ve lived here almost 15 years and we’ve known them a long time,” Allen said.

She said there was also a propane tank on the porch of the home.

Allen said she would see Eugene Yohn work in his yard and mow his lawn despite having vision problems.

“They were very sweet people,” Ashton said.

Before firefighters could enter the home, PPL Utilities employees arrived to cut the power to the home.

The rescue ladder from the Washington Fire and Hose Company was used to fully extinguish the blaze, which resurfaced numerous times through the roof. At one point while the rescue ladder was being used, part of the chimney fell down.

Robert Bebout, of the Red Cross Northeast Pennsylvania District Action Team, called for a spiritual leader for Mrs. Yohn, with her pastor, Mary Schmotzer, arriving. The Yohns were long-time members of Shiloh United Church of Christ in Danville. Bebout expected more Red Cross members to arrive to assist at the scene. He said the Danville Ambulance Service was providing oxygen for Mrs. Yohn.

A Danville ambulance took Mrs. Yohn to the home of her son, Mark Yohn, in the Danville area. A grandson, also named Mark, was at the scene.

Schmotzer said Yohn had been home-bound the past two years and was unable to go to church.

“This will be hard on the neighbors. The neighbors are really close where everybody did look out for everybody,” the pastor said.

A good friend of the Yohns, Anna Mae Gum, of Valley Township, said the Yohns also have a daughter, LeEllen, in Allentown.

“I was just on the phone with Doris at 10 a.m.,” Gum said.

Lutz estimated 60 firefighters responded from Danville, Mahoning Township and Catawissa companies. Danville fire police were also at the scene.

The fire chief, who will be ending his term as of Dec. 31, said, “This puts a damper on my two years.”

Also at the scene were Danville Police Chief Eric Gill, Sgt. William Wilt, patrolman Keith Davenport, Mahoning Township Police Chief Robert Blee and Cpl. Chad Thomas.