By Robert Stoneback
The Daily Item
DANVILLE — Plumes of gray smoke spread across blocks of Danville as firefighters battled a blaze in arctic temperatures Tuesday.
In temperatures hovering around zero, firefighters tried to extinguish the blaze, which started at 11:20 a.m. in the 117 Ash St. home of Linda Rogers.
Rogers said the only occupants in the house at the time were her two cats, both rescued by firefighters. She had gone to Cole’s Hardware and when she returned saw her house on fire. She did not know what could have caused the blaze except perhaps a space heater on the top floor. It is not yet known if Rogers had insurance on the property.
The day’s extreme cold presented intense challenges for firefighters.
Compressed air packs, used by firefighters to breath in the house, kept disconnecting due to freezing, Danville Fire Chief Chris Dickinson said. Additional manpower was called in so crews could be rotated out of the cold weather.
Firefighters not working took shelter in a heated rehab trailer provided by Sunbury’s fire department.
“We had to work in shifts, we needed to limit how long we were in the weather,” said Kevin Young, East End Fire Company captain.
One potential danger was the hose water freezing if the lines were unused. Crews had to leave hose nozzles open so the water wouldn’t freeze.
“We had a couple lines that got partially frozen, but not until after the fire was out. It didn’t hamper our firefighting abilities,” said Leslie Young, East End Fire Company chief. The hoses shot the water out with enough force that the liquid didn’t freeze on contact with the air, she said.
Ice on visors and uniforms made it hard to see and move, which made the rehab trailer even more important, Young said. Ice on the sidewalk around the house also proved hazardous, but the street department threw down salt to help the emergency workers, she said.
Dickinson said a definite cause of the fire could not be determined at this time, although it did not appear to be suspicious. He listed Rogers’ space heater, located in her bathroom, as a possible origin for the flames. He placed a call to the state police fire investigator to survey the scene and had not heard back as of Monday evening.
“The house is gutted,” he said.
The fire caused heavy damage to the second floor and there was extensive water damage downstairs. A damage estimate was unavailable.
Dickinson was unsure who was caring for Rogers and her cats after the damage done to the house.
The fire was contained to the house. At one point, firefighters were called out of the interior of the building due to the roof becoming soft from damage. They continued to battle the flames from outside.
Firefighters were recalled from the scene at 4:34 p.m.
Neighbor could smell smoke from Geisinger
Peg Reed, of 111 Ash St., was working at Geisinger Medical Center when the fire started. Her children, home from school for the day, called her about the fire.
When she left the hospital to return home, she could smell the smoke from the top of Geisinger’s hill.
The emergency response from local fire departments was equally far-reaching. Crews from Danville, Mahoning Township’s East End, Riverside’s Southside, Liberty Township, Valley Township, Washingtonville, Catawissa, Montour Township and Sunbury battled the blaze.
The fire brigade from Riverside’s Merck pharmaceutical plant also responded, as did Danville Ambulance and a PPL team. Power lines at the rear of the structure were endangered.