Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP
A house fire quickly tore through NESCOPECK, Pennsylvania, in northeastern Pennsylvania early Friday morning, killing seven adults and three children and horrifying a volunteer firefighter who arrived to fight the blaze only to find that the victims were his own family.
The dead children were ages 5, 6 and 7, and the seven adults ranged in age from a teenager to a 79-year-old man, Pennsylvania State Police said. Autopsies are scheduled for this weekend.
Nescopeck Township volunteer firefighter Harold Baker said the 10 victims included his son, daughter, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives. She said her two children and the other young victims went to their aunt and uncle’s house for swimming and other summer fun.
He said there were also 13 dogs in the two-story house, but did not say if he knew if they survived.
“All I wanted to do was get in there and get to these people, my family. All I thought about was getting to them,” Baker said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Baker grabbed a hose and an air pack and began pouring water on the fire, desperate to get inside, calling out to his son. His chief realized whose house it was, and his fellow firefighters escorted Baker back to the fire station.
A preliminary investigation indicates the fire started on the front porch around 2:30 a.m., Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sangedolce said Friday evening.
“The information I have is that the fire started very quickly and that’s why it was very difficult to get out.
Sangedolce said that three people managed to escape from the fire. He said four state police firefighters were involved in the investigation, although they have not determined the fire was intentional.
Nescopeck is a small town on the Susquehanna River about 20 miles southwest of Wilkes-Barre. The home was on a residential street of mostly owner-occupied, single-family homes.
Baker said the address originally given for the call was a house next door. When the fire engine approached, he realized that it was the residence of family members. He said that his unit was the first on the scene and the house was already on fire.
“There was nothing we could do to get in there. We tried, but we couldn’t get in,” said Baker, 57, a 40-year firefighter.
His son, Dale Baker, 19, followed both his parents into the fire service when he was 16.
“He said it all his life, he was just going to be like his father,” Harold Baker said.
Heidi Knorr, secretary of the Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Company, said Dale Baker was “such a fun spirit. He just loved life.”
The family was “always willing to lend a hand to anyone in need,” Knorr said. Dale’s mother was not among the dead listed by Harold Baker.
Mike Swank, who lives two doors down the street, said he woke up early Friday morning and looked outside after hearing a loud explosion. He noticed the porch was “really going” and got out using another neighbor’s hose to keep the flames from spreading to the garage.
“I saw two guys outside and they were in various states of hysteria,” Swank told the AP by phone.
One man was on his cell phone, “and I’m trying to ask him if everybody’s out,” he said. “The other guy was on the street and he was just running in circles.”
Swank said he couldn’t get information from them. A fence prevented him from going to the back of the property.
Baker said 14 people lived in the home. One was delivering newspapers, and three ran away.
Swank said the family moved in a few months ago under a rental agreement and spent a lot of time on the messy front porch.
“It was so fast and so smoky, you just knew you weren’t going to outrun anybody,” Swank said. He saw cadaver dogs being used to search the scene until they found the bodies.