WHITE HAVEN — Firefighters from multiple departments throughout southern Luzerne County, northern Carbon County and western Monroe County, including a specialized rapid intervention team from Hanover Township, battled a blaze that heavily damaged two homes Monday morning.
About 80 firefighters were on hand for several hours as flames engulfed 223 Towanda St. and spread to a neighboring house just before 8 a.m. A total of eight people from the two homes managed to escape without injury.
Several fire companies in the Wyoming Valley were placed on stand-by or relocated apparatus vehicles in Mountain Top and Dennison Township to provide emergency coverage due to the heavy response to the blaze.
The two houses that burned are located about 100 yards from the White Haven Engine 61 Hose Co. on Buffalo Street.
Holes were cut in the roofs of the two houses to ventilate heat and smoke, which covered the small town in a thick haze. Smoke was seen as far away as Church Road in Wright Township, a distance of about eight miles.
Eddy Pierre-Louis said he believed the fire began on the rear porch of his home at 223 Towanda St., which he has owned with his wife, Marie, for about 10 years. They have five children.
Pierre-Louis and his wife escaped with only the clothes on their backs. The American Red Cross is assisting their family.
Eileen Jones said she first smelled smoke and saw flames when she was inside her house at 225 Towanda St. She managed to grab a pair of shoes and a purse before fleeing.
Both Pierre-Louis and Jones could do nothing but watch as flames consumed their homes. Neighbors provided them with water and some food.
White Haven Deputy Fire Chief Mike Dotter said the Pierre-Louis home was “heavily involved with fire when we arrived minutes after dispatch, and the other home was partially involved.”
Dotter said heat conditions, “between the fire and the warm weather we finally are receiving, made (fighting the fire) difficult, plus the time of day, getting enough manpower to rotate crews through because of the heat and physical exertion.”
Teams of firefighters took turns entering the burning houses. As one team exited, it was led to a rehab tent set up in the middle of Buffalo Street where paramedics checked heart rates and other vital signs.
Supplies of water, candy, yogurt and salads were provided during breaks as temperatures rose into the 70s.
One firefighter suffered a minor injury, possibly a broken finger, Dotter said.
Firefighters from Freeland set up their aerial ladder truck and extended its ladder that had a hose gun to reach the flames over three tall pine trees in front of Jones’ home.
But, firefighters managed to knock down the stubborn blaze from the ground and inside.
Dotter said the Pierre-Louis home sustained heavy fire damage. The Jones’ home to the right sustained fairly heavy damage to one wall and the roof, plus a lot of water and smoke damage. A third home to the left sustained some siding damage.
“The fire must have had a huge head start on us. I could see it from my residence when I was dispatched,” Dotter said.
A state police deputy fire marshal was on scene investigating the cause of the blaze.