By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
— COAL TOWNSHIP — A Coal Township couple is safe but mourning the loss of a beloved dog after a two-alarm fire left their home heavily damaged Friday morning.
The fire began about 9:20 a.m. at the home of Helen and Walter Neiswender of 1019 w. Arch St. Helen Neiswender said she was taking a shower upstairs when her husband yelled to her that smoke was billowing out the back of the house downstairs.
“By the time I came down to the kitchen, I couldn’t see anything,” she said, smoke was quickly filling the home.
The Neiswenders evacuated their home and sought shelter at the home of James Kelley, Northumberland County Coroner and owner of James Kelley Funeral Home at 1001 W. Arch St., just a few doors down. Area Ambulance EMTS checked the Neiswenders and found them unharmed.
The American Red Cross was being called to assist the couple.
Kelley assisted Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Malukas of the Coal Township Fire Department in evacuating several homes adjacent to the Neiswenders’ residence, about half of the block. Most homes on Arch Street are tight and right next to each other.
Aside of smoke and water damage, those homes appeared fine, Malukas said. Firefighters had the blaze under control in about 20 minutes, then began checking the home to ensure it was out.
Homeowner Bill Janovich of 1015 W. Arch St. was at this job at a Walmart in Pottsville, nearly 20 miles away, when he got the call about his home. “I made it over here in record time,” he said. Firefighters were still checking out the roof of his home but otherwise it was unharmed, he said.
The Neiswender home is insured, Helen said; she has lived there about 21 years, and her husband about 35 years.
The blaze shook up the neighborhood as family, friends and neighbors came to check on loved ones after hearing news of the fire. Lori Lahr and Joy Kimsal, the Neiswenders’ daughters, found their parents at the Kelley home and immediately broke down in tears of relief.
“This is a tight neighborhood,” Kelley said. Walter Neiswender “has been there as long as I’ve been in my house. Neighbors are family and they look out for each other.”
Malukas and firefighters were able to get the couple’s English springer spaniel out from under the backporch where he was hiding, and carried him to his relieved owners. However, the couple’s Golden Retriever, refusing to come out from upstairs, perished in the blaze.
Damage estimates and the immediate cause of the fire are not yet known, pending investigation, Malukas said.
Responding from the Coal Township Fire Department were Maine, Fairview, Coal Township Rescue, East End and Brady companies. Also responding was a company of the Shamokin Fire Bureau, the Kulpmont and Atlas Fire Departments, Area Ambulance Services and the Coal Township Police Department.