WILKES-BARRE — A day after a fire killed two women and displaced more than 150 people from the 11-story Lincoln Plaza, efforts were being made Wednesday to have tenants on certain floors return to their apartments.
Dave Skutnik, regional communications director for the American Red Cross, said the Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority was making progress on the apartment building. The hope was tenants on floors one through four could return by Wednesday night.
Tenants residing on floors six through 11 may return Thursday or Friday, Skutnik said.
Those who reside on the fifth floor will not be able to return as repairs and the investigation into the cause of Tuesday’s blaze is continuing, City Fire Chief Jay Delaney said.
Firefighters responded to the building, located at East Northampton Street and South Wilkes-Barre Boulevard, at about noon Tuesday when flames ripped through a fifth-floor apartment.
Additional firefighters and aerial ladder trucks from Hanover Township, Forty Fort and Kingston responded due to the size of the structure and the number of occupants.
About an hour after the fire broke out, a light rain began to fall, forcing evacuated tenants to relocate to a community room at Boulevard Townhomes on South Wilkes-Barre Boulevard.
Two women, Luann Gilroy, 62, and Gloria Nieves, 55, were found dead by firefighters on the fifth floor.
Luzerne County Coroner Bill Lisman said an autopsy by forensic pathologist Dr. Gary Ross determined Gilroy died from smoke inhalation.
Nieves died from carbon monoxide intoxication, Lisman said.
Lisman said an autopsy was not required for Nieves.
Manners of death for the two women are pending the state police and city fire inspector’s investigation into the cause of the fire, Lisman said.
Nieves’ sister, Iris Nieves, also a fifth floor tenant, said she heard an explosion and encountered flames and thick black smoke in the hallway. Iris Nieves escaped with a sweater and her dog, Harry, and nervously called her sister several times on a cell phone.
Delaney said he spent the day at Lincoln Plaza with investigators, Deputy Fire Chief Alan Klapat and housing authority representatives to make sure the building was safe so tenants could return.
Delaney said the structure, which consists of 130 units, did not have sprinklers in apartments due to when it was constructed.
“It was not required to have a sprinkler system in the rooms,” Delaney said. “New construction, the answer is yes, but this building, they were not required.”
Skutnik said 43 tenants spent Tuesday night in a shelter set up in the gymnasium at Wilkes-Barre GAR High School. He said about 50 tenants were planning to stay in the gymnasium Wednesday night.
Tenants were permitted to return at least temporarily to their apartments Wednesday to retrieve medications, cell phone chargers or other needed items, Skutnik said.
Excluding a flood crisis, Skutnik said the fire at Lincoln Plaza was one of the largest evacuations for the Red Cross due to the number of occupants. About 24 Red Cross volunteers were assisting at the shelter.
“The American Red Cross did a phenomenal job,” Chief Delaney said. “I can’t say enough about what the Red Cross has done.”