WILKES-BARRE — Candis Thomas said she was wearing “everything I own” as she sat on a bench across from her Interfaith Heights apartment waiting for the Red Cross to arrive and take her someplace where she would be spending the next unknown number of nights.
Thomas, 54, said she was returning home from visiting her sick mother when fire trucks sped past her, causing her concern.
“I thought to myself, ‘I hope they aren’t going to my place,’ ” she said.
But they were on their way to the apartment complex off Coal Street where she lives. A three-alarm fire that Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney said started in Thomas’ first-floor corner unit of the three-story building quickly spread to the unit above, causing the residents of the six occupied apartments of the 10-unit building to be displaced for the night.
Delaney said 14 people were forced out. He said city fire investigator Alan Klapat was on the scene, but he wouldn’t be able to determine the cause of the fire until today.
“The important thing here is that everyone got out and nobody was injured,” Delaney said of the fire that was called in at 6:38 p.m. “All on-duty city firefighters responded and we called out six more.”
The building is in the middle of three connected in this section of the 344-unit complex near Sherman Hills. Residents of the left and right wing buildings were allowed to return to their apartments after firefighters completed their tasks.
Mike Simonson, the city’s assistant director of operations, inspected the buildings and determined they were safe and fire alarms were operational.
The residents of the three buildings met with Delaney at the rear of the complex. Those needing housing were told the Red Cross would arrive to discuss accommodations.
Delaney said as many as 60 people reside in 30 units in the section of the complex. Simonson said there are 344 units in Interfaith Heights.
Thomas said she lived in the apartment by herself. Her mother, Mattie Thomas, is 88 and she recently was placed in Kingston Commons Nursing Home. Thomas said she left her apartment at 11 a.m. to spend the day with her mother.
“I found out my mother has pneumonia and we were trying to get her to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital,” she said. “But we didn’t get an ambulance, so I decided to take the bus to the square and walk home.”
Thomas said she has no idea how the fire might have started.
“I didn’t leave anything on,” she said.
Thomas said she was worried that important papers, such as insurance policies, were lost in the fire. She said everything she owns was in the apartment.
“I have some physical issues, too,” she said. “I have a heart condition and my medicines are in the apartment.”
Thomas said other than her mother, she has no family in the area. She said she and her mother moved to Wilkes-Barre from Philadelphia about 46 years ago. She said she’s not married and has no children.
Thomas said she has been out of work for two years.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said fighting back tears.
A firefighter came out of the building carrying a cat, one of several saved.
The complex manager was on the scene but would not talk to the media.
Originally, Delaney thought residents of all three buildings in the affected area would have to be put up for the night. But once the two wing buildings were deemed safe, only those residents in the middle building would need shelter.
“But for sure, a lot of people will need housing and we’re working on that right now,” Delaney said.