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Careless smoking caused Pineford fire, officials say

firephoto4 20 16SLIDESubmitted Photo -- This photo by Lori Shetter, which she provided to investigators, shows the fire’s beginnings at Holly Hall and helped the investigation, officials said.

Careless smoking caused the April 3 fire that swept through Holly Hall in the Village of Pineford, displacing 60 residents, investigators said.

“The cause of the fire is accidental due to smoking,” said Steven Bartholomew, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in an e-mail to the Press And Journal on Monday, April 18. “The investigation revealed it began in the roof above the fifth floor on the north side of the building.”

ATF led the investigation because of the size and scope of the fire, which engulfed the five-story, 80-unit apartment building.

Investigators believe the fire was started by someone who was smoking a cigarette while on a fifth-floor balcony, said Dennis Woodring, a detective with the Dauphin County District Attorney’s Criminal Investigation Division.

“Either a hot ash from a cigarette or the cigarette itself” made its way into a void just to the right of the balcony, Woodring said.

The person who was smoking the cigarette came forward to investigators on the same day as the fire, Woodring said. However, investigators had to eliminate all other possibilities before settling on a cause. For example, the fire could have been the result of an electrical malfunction that could have occurred in the same area, Woodring noted. The ATF team brought in electrical engineers to examine such a possibility.

“That (electrical) is a potential ignition source in that area as well,” Woodring said. “You have to be able to rule out all the potential ignition sources.”
No criminal charges are expected to be filed because the fire was accidental. At this point, the investigation into the fire is considered closed, Woodring said.
For days, the rumor on Facebook was that the fire started from an unattended grill that someone had been using for cooking. As recently as this past weekend, police were asking for witnesses to voluntarily provide photos and video of the fire to assist in pinpointing the cause.

“I can’t begin to tell you how helpful the response was from citizens who responded to the request for photographs. They were very helpful,” said Woodring.

One photo that was helpful was given to police by Lori Shetter. The photo shows the fire in its early stages above the balcony where investigators determined it started. The void to which Woodring referred is the burned-out black area below the vent and, as pictured, to the left of the balcony railing itself.

In the void, investigators found “a lot of dried debris from over the years” and the remains of some cigarette butts, Woodring said.

Evidence gathered by investigators during the probe shows that people smoked inside Holly Hall, Woodring said. Whether they were allowed to smoke in the building or not is a question for others, such as the management and owners of Pineford, Horst Realty of Lancaster.

Steve Horst of Horst Realty has not returned phone calls from the Press And Journal, although he did say during a public meeting in Middletown on April 6 that Holly Hall will be rebuilt “better than it was.” The fire caused an estimated $8 million damage.

Holly Hall had a “partial” sprinkler system at the time of the fire, Woodring said. The fire started below the sprinkler system, but “as the fire grew it got above” the sprinkler system “and was able to move through the void in the roof,” Woodring said.

“The problem with this fire on this particular day was the wind,” Woodring said.

The wind on April 3 was so strong that a wind advisory had been issued for the day.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 April 2016 16:18

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Check out the agenda for Middletown Borough Council's April 19 meeting

Middletown Borough Council plans to hire a new borough manager during council's meeting on April 19, 2016.

    The borough has been without a permanent manager since late December when Tim Konek resigned.

    Since then, borough management duties have been performed on an interim basis by Bruce Hamer, a former Middletown borough manager whom council brought on board in January as a management consultant.

    Council also delegated responsibility for borough operations to Police Chief John Bey, again on a temporary basis until a new manager is hired.

    Council also plans to hire a borough secretary, according to the agenda. Hamer is to resign from that position.

    Council's meeting is to begin at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers in the Municipal Building.

    In addition, the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority has advertised a public meeting for 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers on April 19, right before the council meeting.

    The ICDA meeting is being held to review and authorize all scheduled project payments, according to a legal notice posted on Sunday.


Agenda for April 19 2016 Middletown Borough Council meeting

Last Updated on Monday, 18 April 2016 12:21

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DA wants your help in fire investigation

da logo 2Police detectives investigating the Sunday, April 3, fire in Middletown that seriously damaged the Holly Hall building in the Village of Pineford Apartment Complex are asking for the public's help with their investigation.  

“The police are especially interested in photographs of the early stages of the fire near the time when the fire was first discovered by residents or other members of the public passing by,” said Dauphin County’s District Attorney Ed Marsico. “If you have any of the information described above, please contact Det. Dennis Woodring of the Dauphin County District Attorney's Criminal Investigation Division at (717) 780-6220 or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .” 

The fire, which began sometime before 11:30 a.m., seriously damaged the building and displaced dozens of residents. Police are seeking any information people may have about when the fire was first noticed and are asking for any photographs and/or video footage that members of the public may have that documents the fire.  

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 April 2016 05:56

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After almost 71 years, Steelton native and World War II pilot Capt. Arthur "Archie" Halfpapp is home for good

 Family, friends, members of the military and others wanting to pay their respects came to Middletown today for the funeral of Capt. Arthur "Archie" Halfpapp, a World War II pilot from Steelton whose P-47 Thunderbolt went down during a combat mission over Italy nearly 71 years ago.

    Among the 75 or so people attending the service at the Matinchek & Daughter Funeral Home were two Italian excavators who in October 2014 found Halfpapp's aircraft and his remains not far from the Po River near Guarda, Italy.

halfpappfuneral2Press And Journal Photo by Dan Miller -- The two Italian excavators who found Capt. Arthur Halfpapp's plane and remains pose just before the start of his funeral in Middletown today. On the right is archeologist Gianluca Mazzanti.


 The discovery by the men led to DNA testing that confirmed the identity of Halfpapp, a 1939 Steelton High School graduate who was 23 years old at the time of his death.

    Halfpapp's plane was brought down by anti-aircraft fire while he was on his  103rd combat mission on April 24, 1945, just 14 days before the war in Europe would end.

     Halfpapp had flown more than enough missions to earn his ticket home, but instead chose to fly in place of a rookie pilot, according to Halfpapp's nephew Rev. Jack Sipe, who lives in Londonderry Twp.

    Halfpapp worried that the inexperienced pilot would make a mistake and be killed in the waning days of the war in Europe, Sipe said. Halfpapp also wanted to go on to fight in Japan, according to letters he wrote home.

    Halfpapp's body, carried in a flag-draped coffin, arrived in a Delta aircraft that landed at Harrisburg International Airport shortly after 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12.

    During Thursday's funeral the two Italian men who found Halfpapp received a round of sustained applause after being introduced to those attending the service.

    The service included the presenting of Halfpapp's military decorations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and others, to members of Halfpapp's family by Air Force Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Carrelli, the acting adjutant general of Pennsylvania.

    Carelli also presented a letter to the family from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who called Halfpapp "a true role model for all Pennsylvanians."

    Sen. Mike Folmer, his voice breaking with emotion, presented a citation to the family on behalf of the state Senate.

    Halfpapp's coffin was carried with military precision into a waiting hearse by a uniformed honor guard. A Middletown police escort led the hearse and Halfpapp's funeral procession out of Matinchek and past a small group of people who were standing on the sidewalk and waving American flags.

    Halfpapp was then buried with full military honors at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery. About 100 people attended the ceremony at the Gap, said funeral director Zachary Matinchek.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 April 2016 09:19

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Council to seek replacement for Wilsbach

Middletown Borough Council voted to accept the resignation of Second Ward Councilor Greg Wilsbach on Tuesday, April 5.

Wilsbach, a Republican, was elected to a four-year term in November. He said in a resignation letter dated March 22 that he was leaving to apply for a job as the borough’s public works director.

The borough will now accept letters of interest and resumes from Second Ward residents who want to fill the council vacancy created by Wilsbach’s resignation.

Council plans to appoint a replacement at its May 3 meeting, said council President Ben Kapenstein.

The borough also is accepting applications from Middletown residents who are interested in serving on the town’s new five-member planning commission and the Olmsted Regional Recreation Board. One seat is open on the rec board. Applications will be accepted over the next 30 days.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 April 2016 16:23

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