Wood stove fire displaces Wellsboro couple

WELLSBORO – Douglas and Rebecca Candelario, of 6 Hastings St., have a neighbor to thank for alerting firefighters to a chimney fire that burned through the wall of their two-story residence Friday.

According to Wellsboro Fire Chief Lonnie Campbell, the neighbor called the fire in after he saw smoke and walked around the side of the house to see it was on fire around 2:30 p.m.

Campbell said the fire started in a wood stove and traveled into the chimney of an old fireplace in the house where it was vented through a pipe and “started to burn through to the outside.”

The house, which Campbell said he believes can be repaired, “is not able to be lived in, and all utilities have been disconnected.”

“When we arrived, heavy smoke was showing from all four corners of the house. I’m not sure we even had a couple more minutes before it could have been a very different outcome,” he said.

Campbell said if the neighbor hadn’t noticed the house was on fire, it could have burned to the ground, because no one was home. Both husband and wife were working.

“I think it was a fluke the neighbor happened to stop by his residence when he did and saw the smoke, and walked around the front and saw the home was on fire,” Campbell said.

Two pets – a dog and cat – were removed from the house before firefighters arrived. The neighbor called Mrs. Candelario and she came home immediately, Campbell said.

The fire is not considered suspicious, Campbell said, and there was “moderate smoke damage throughout.”

“The fire was contained to the partition on the same side as the chimney, though it did burn into the second floor,” he said.

Campbell said he didn’t think the fire had been burning for long.

The construction of the older home is typical “balloon” construction, Campbell said, with timbers that run from sill to roof, “so there’s no fire-stop built in them.”

“Probably one of the things that slowed it down is the partitions had blown-in foam composite insulation that was pretty tightly packed and melting,” he added.

Campbell said about 30 firefighters from Wellsboro, Middlebury and Mansfield fire departments were on the scene for about two hours, though it only took about 40 minutes to put out the blaze.

“We remained on scene to open up the walls and check for hot spots. Once we determined it had not spread, we could push furniture and belongings into the center and protect them from the water. So, most of it will be salvageable, and it will be repairable,” he said.

The location of the house, on a side street below Rock L. Butler Middle School, added another degree of difficulty in addition to the frigid temperatures, because it was difficult to get fire-fighting apparatus close to the scene.

Water was not an issue, but timing also was difficult, as the school was about to dismiss its students, Campbell said.

“The school had to go through their evacuation process and coordinate their teachers and staff to walk the students to the high school to be picked up there,” he said.

The freezing temperatures didn’t initially hinder firefighters, he added, “but as we started to wrap up and break equipment down, we were freezing up in a hurry.”

“We had a couple trucks we had to put the salamander units under to melt frozen-solid valves, but there was no damage to the equipment,” he said.

The house was insured, Campbell said, and the couple is staying with friends in the area.