HUGHESTOWN – The owners of a Parsonage Street home barely made it out alive when an explosion in the basement rocked the house and thick, black smoke filled the two-story structure on Tuesday afternoon.
Ruth Anderson, 74, said she was sitting in her living room at 241 Parsonage St. when she heard a loud bang, like glass breaking. She opened the basement door and smoke poured out.
I ran like hell, Anderson said. She made her way up the stairs of the two-story home to wake her husband, Eugene. As the two made it downstairs, smoke was everywhere.
I was trying to catch my breath, I was pulling it all in, she said. By the time I got him out of the room, we couldn't even see the steps.
The husband and wife made it out safely from the house in which Ruth Anderson was born and raised. The home is next door to the Granteed Tavern.
Their son, Eugene, his wife, Pattie Flynn, and their son, Eugene Jr., were not home at 243 Parsonage St. when the fire started, Ruth Anderson said.
Hughestown Fire Chief Jamie Merlino said fire spread across the basements of the double-block home and climbed through the walls to the attic. The center stairwells, he said, acted like a chimney for the fire, and firefighters saw fireballs in them.
Firefighters were on scene and putting water on the fire within five minutes of their 2:07 p.m. dispatch, Merlino said. But the balloon-frame construction of the house allowed the fire to spread extremely fast, and the structure was gutted, he said.
Merlino had firefighters switch from an offensive approach to defensive mode after about 10 minutes, given that one firefighter went through the floor up to his thigh, he said. At that point, the house flashed and we bailed out of the house.
Firefighters then battled the blaze from aerial ladder trucks. In addition to dousing flames in the Andersons' home, firefighters sprayed water onto neighboring homes to protect them.
Merlino said the Andersons' home had oil heat, and he suspects a furnace malfunction caused the explosion. However, with 5 feet of water in the basement, unsafe floors and basement stairs destroyed, conditions were not safe to complete an investigation, and he said the official cause of the fire will remain undetermined.
The American Red Cross was on scene providing food and drink to Hughestown firefighters as well as those who came from Pittston, West Pittston, Jenkins Township, Wyoming, Old Forge, Avoca, Exeter, Dupont and Duryea.
Ruth Anderson said she and her husband made it out of the house with only the clothes on their backs, but they're thankful to be alive and safe. She said they will stay with family members, one of whom said they will be welcome to stay as long as they like.
About three blocks of Parsonage Street were closed to traffic until the scene was cleared at about 6:30 p.m.