Jimmy May/Bloomsberg Press via Associated Press
NESCOPEC, Pennsylvania – A fire quickly broke out at a home in northeastern Pennsylvania early Friday morning, killing seven adults and three children and terrifying a volunteer firefighter who arrived to fight the blaze to discover the victims were his family, authorities said.
The children who died ranged in age from 5, 6 and 7, while the seven adults ranged in age from a late teen to a 79-year-old man, Pennsylvania State Police said in a news release. Autopsies are planned for this weekend.
The 10 victims are his son, daughter, father, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives, said Harold Baker, a volunteer firefighter in the town of Neskopic. He said his two children and the other young victims were visiting their uncle and aunt’s house for swimming and other summer fun.
He said 13 dogs were also in the two-story house, but he wouldn’t say if he knew if any of them survived.
“All I wanted to do was go out there and reach out to these people, my family. That’s all I could think of, reaching them,” Baker said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Grabbing a hose and a can of air, Baker began pouring water on the fire, desperate to make his way inside and call out to his son. His boss realized his home, and the firefighters escorted Baker to the firehouse.
Lucerne County Prosecutor Sam Sanguidulci said a preliminary investigation indicates the fire broke out on the front porch around 2:30 a.m.
“The information I have is that the fire started and developed very quickly, which made it very difficult to get out,” he said.
Sanguidulci said three people managed to escape the fire. He said four state police firefighters are taking part in the investigation, although it will not be classified as a criminal investigation unless they can prove that the blaze was set on purpose.
Nescopeck is a small town located on the Susquehanna River, about 20 miles southwest of Wilkes-Barre. The house on a residential street was a single family home largely inhabited by its owners.
Baker said the address initially given to the call was a house next door. He realized it was his family’s home as the fire truck approached. He said his unit was the first on site, and that the house had already caught fire.
“There was nothing we could do to get in there. We tried, but we couldn’t get in,” said Baker, 57, who has been a firefighter for 40 years.
His son, 19-year-old Dale Baker, had followed his parents into the fire service, joining when he was 16.
“He’d said it all his life, he’d be like his father,” said Harold Becker.
Heidi Knorr, secretary of the volunteer fire company in Nescopeck, described Dale Becker as “a fun-loving spirit. He just loved life.”
Knorr said the family was “always ready to help extend a helping hand to anyone in need.” Dale’s mother was not among the dead listed by Harold Baker.
Mike Swank, who lives two doors down across the street, said he happened to be up early Friday and looked outside after hearing a loud explosion. He saw the porch “was really coming off” and got out, using another neighbor’s hose to keep the fire from spreading to a garage.
“I saw two men outside who were in different states of hysteria,” Swank told The Associated Press by phone.
“And I’m trying to ask him if everyone is out,” said one of the men who was on a cell phone. “The other guy was on the street and he was running in circles.”
Swank said he was unable to get information from them. The fence prevented him from reaching the back of the property.
Baker said 14 people were living in the house. One was delivering newspapers, and three others ran away.
Swank said the family moved a few months ago under what he understood to be an expiring lease to own, and he spent a lot of time on the crowded front porch.
“It was so fast and smoky, I just knew no one would be able to get out of it,” Swank said. Dogs saw corpses used to search the scene until they found the bodies.