By Robert Stoneback
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — High winds spread a Sunday afternoon fire to five Chestnut Street houses, forcing a mass evacuation, closing streets and interrupting rail service. Firefighters were on the scene for about five hours.
All residents of the buildings in the 200 block of Chestnut Street were safe and accounted for, according to emergency personnel. The fire was first reported at 4 p.m. at 253 and 255 Chestnut St., a duplex divided into four apartments.
The fire spread to the neighboring houses of 257, 249 and 245 Chestnut St. The house at 245 Chestnut St. was vacant while the rest were occupied, according to Fire Chief Mike Rhoads, of the Sunbury Fire Department. Rhoads said the fire was under control at 6 p.m.
A state police fire marshal will investigate the cause of the fire today, Rhoads said.
Firefighters from Northumberland, Coal Township, Selinsgrove, Shamokin and Upper Augusta, Lower Augusta and Point townships helped the city fire department battle the blaze.
Brandy Heller, of Sunbury, and her husband were visiting her husband’s parents, Ken and Sharon Heller, and his cousin, Eugene Heller, at 249 Chestnut St. when the fire started.
Brandy’s brother-in-law, Charlie Michael, spotted the fire next door when he went outside to smoke a cigarette. He said it looked like it was coming from the basement.
“He came back in screaming the house next door is on fire,” said Brandy Heller. Her husband, Charlie Michael and Ken Heller helped evacuate people from 253 and 255 Chestnut St.
Brandy Heller said that a bird and a cat were left inside one of the houses.
Each of the four apartments at 253 and 255 Chestnut St. were occupied, according to building co-owner Brad Niemiec, although he declined to give any information about the tenants. Niemiec and co-owner Meghan Beck have fire insurance on the house, he said.
Two families lived inside 257 Chestnut St. and were evacuated, Rhoads said, although he did not have their names.
Ken and Sharon Heller will be staying with local relatives, while Eugene Heller, the owner of 249 Chestnut St., will stay with relatives of his girlfriend, Lorri Aucker.
Eugene Heller and Lorri Aucker lived in the downstairs of 249 and rented the top floor apartment to Ken and Sharon Heller. Eugene Heller said his building was insured.
Neither Niemiec nor Eugene Heller had an estimate of damages.
The Red Cross will take care of any families needing shelter, said officer Travis Bremigen, of the Sunbury Police Department.
Chestnut Street was closed from its intersection with Center Street to the railroad crossing just past South Third Street. The city was closed to train traffic during the fire.
Members of the nearby Eagles club and Chestnut Street neighbors gave food and water to emergency workers at the scene.