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Causes of two recent fires determined; residents have been made homeless for a time

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 1/10/18

The cause of two of three recent house fires in Middletown has been determined by a fire marshal with the Dauphin County district attorney’s office.

A Dec. 20 fire in a row of townhouses in …

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Causes of two recent fires determined; residents have been made homeless for a time

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The cause of two of three recent house fires in Middletown has been determined by a fire marshal with the Dauphin County district attorney’s office.

A Dec. 20 fire in a row of townhouses in the 3100 block of Pineford Drive was accidental and started “in or around the furnace area” of the unit at 3104, Middletown Volunteer Fire Company Fire Chief Kenton Whitebread Jr. told the Press & Journal.

A fire that started shortly after 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 3, in a house at 101 N. Pine St. was also accidental. The cause was electrical and the fire started in the attic, Whitebread said.

The fire marshal is still investigating the fire at a two-story residence at Grant and Colfax streets early on the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 26, Whitebread said.

While the houses were damaged and residents have been made homeless for a time, there have been no reported injuries to any of the victims or to firefighters.

Two pet dogs were taken to an animal clinic following the fire at the house on North Pine Street, but both animals are making a good recovery, Whitebread said.

The owners of the house on North Pine had tried to fight the fire with a home extinguisher before firefighters arrived, Whitebread had told the Press & Journal after the fire on Jan. 3.

The homeowner ran back into the residence to try and find the dogs, but could not locate them and exited the structure, according to a post on the fire department Facebook page.

Firefighters found the dogs, both Labrador retrievers, and got them out safely. One dog suffered smoke inhalation and was given oxygen at the scene by South Central Emergency Medical Services, Whitebread said.

The residents are staying with other family members in the area, Whitebread said.

Firefighters arrived at the scene to see fire coming through the roof. The roof collapsed in the back corner of the house, Whitebread said.

The North Pine Street fire was the third serious house fire that had occurred in Middletown within just two weeks, starting with the one in Pineford on Dec. 20.

Seven people were made homeless by that fire, including three small children ages 1 to 3.

Regarding the day-after-Christmas fire at Grant and Colfax streets, fire officials have said the fire broke out in the basement. No one was at home at the time.

Firefighters have battled all three fires under conditions of extreme cold.

With the wind chill temperatures stayed below zero — ranging from negative 2 to negative 4 degrees — for the entire time that firefighters were at the scene at North Pine Street, Whitebread said.

Water froze on the street immediately. Firefighters had a bag of salt to spread salt around the fire engine during the fire. Middletown Public Works employees showed up after the fire to spread more salt to try and melt the ice on the street and sidewalk in the area.

Firefighters brought with them to the fire extra clothing like gloves and hand warmers. But once the gloves got wet they became“a block of ice” that Whitebread brought into his command vehicle to try and thaw out.

Firefighters kept the heat cranked up inside the fire engine, and firefighters were rotated in and out of the vehicle every 20 to 30 minutes to keep them from getting too cold.

Despite that “we had plenty of manpower,” Whitebread said. “At one point we had 20 to 25 people waiting to get assigned for them to do something. I would rather have the people there and send them home then not have enough and have guys risking hypothermia.”

“We had guys walking around with icicles hanging from their mustaches. It definitely was a tedious job. I’m very proud of all the people,” he said. “It speaks paramount to the professionalism of the firefighters in the negative temperatures. They did not have to get out of bed, but they chose to.”

The risk of home fires is greater this time of year, because of the increased use of space heaters and other heat sources to try and stay warm, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Whitebread said anyone with a chimney needs to make sure that the furnace flue on the roof is kept clear of snow and ice. Otherwise, the exhaust could become blocked which can lead to a build-up of carbon monoxide.

The chief strongly urged that any resident resist the temptation to go back inside a house on fire.

“At least 90 percent of fatalities involving fire are due to tenants or homeowners trying to go back inside. Once you are out, stay out. It makes our job a lot harder because now we have to search for people as well as extinguish the fire,” Whitebread said. “We are coming, and if there is somebody in there we are going to try and get them out.”

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