Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP
NESCOPECK, Pa. — A fire quickly ripped through a northeastern Pennsylvania home early Friday morning, killing seven adults and three children and horrifying a volunteer firefighter who arrived to battle the blaze only to find the victims were his own family , authorities said.
The children who died were ages 5, 6 and 7, Pennsylvania State Police said in a news release, while the seven adults ranged in age from late teens to a 79-year-old man. Autopsies were scheduled for this weekend.
Harold Baker, a volunteer firefighter in the town of Nescopeck, said the 10 victims included his son, daughter, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives. He said his two children and the other young victims visit their aunt and uncle for swimming and fun in the summer.
He said 13 dogs were also in the two-story house, but did not say if he knew if any survived.
“All I wanted to do was go out there and get to those people, my family. That’s all I was thinking about, get in touch with them,” Baker said in a phone interview with the Associated Press.
Baker grabbed a hose and an air bag and started pouring water on the fire, desperate to work his way inside and call his son. His chief realized who owned the house and his fellow firefighters escorted Baker to the fire station.
A preliminary investigation suggests the fire started on the porch around 2:30 a.m., Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce said Friday night.
“The information I have is that the fire started and progressed very quickly, making evacuation very difficult,” he said.
Three people were able to escape the fire, Sanguedolce said. Four state police fire marshals are involved in the investigation, though it is not considered a criminal investigation unless they determine the fire was started intentionally, he said. declared.
Nescopeck is a small town on the Susquehanna River, about 20 miles southwest of Wilkes-Barre. The house was on a residential street of largely owner-occupied single-family homes.
Baker said the address originally given for the call was a nearby house. He realized it was the residence of his family members as the fire truck approached. He said his unit was first on the scene and the house was already engulfed in flames.
“There was nothing we could have done to get in there. We tried, but we couldn’t get in,” said Baker, 57, a firefighter for 40 years.
His son, Dale Baker, 19, had followed both his parents into the fire department when he was 16.
“He said it all his life, he was just going to be like his dad,” Harold Baker said.
Heidi Knorr, the secretary of the Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Company, called Dale Baker “such a fun-loving soul. He just loved life”.
The family was “always willing to help anyone in need,” Knorr said. Dale’s mother was not among the dead listed by Harold Baker.
Mike Swank, who lives two doors down across the street, said he woke up early on Friday and looked outside after hearing a loud explosion. He saw that the porch was “really going” and got out, using another neighbor’s hose to stop the fire from spreading to a garage.
“I saw two guys outside and they were in various states of hysteria,” Swank told the AP by phone.
A man was on a cellphone “and I’m trying to ask him if everyone’s out,” he said. “The other guy was in the street and he was going around in circles.”
Swank said he was unable to get any information from them. A fence prevented him from accessing the back of the property.
Baker said 14 people lived in the house. One had gone out to deliver newspapers and three others escaped.
Swank said the family moved in a few months ago under what he considered a rent-to-own agreement and spent a lot of time on the cluttered porch.
“It was so fast and there was so much smoke you knew no one was going to make it,” Swank said. He saw cadaver dogs being used to search the scene until the bodies were located.