Homes damaged in area blazes

A couple safely escaped their burning home on Elmira Street in the city on Thursday afternoon after being alerted by a working smoke alarm to a fire in their kitchen.

A tenant who lived in the other half of the double at 829-831 Elmira St., also made it out.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation, but city Fire Chief C. Dean Heinbach said the fire is believed to be accidental.

Tenant Reginald Brooks, 49, said he was dozing off on a couch in his living room in the 831 side when he heard a smoke alarm going off about 1 :40 p.m.

“I rushed to the kitchen and flames were shooting out the back of the oven,” said Brooks, who shares the apartment with Christina Dusina, 36, and her 17-year-old daughter, Karen Wentzel.

“I ran downstairs to get a fire extinguisher, but by the time I got back upstairs, the fire was so intense I had to get out. The kitchen was totally up in flames,” Brooks said.

Dusina was cooking some items in the oven and had gone upstairs for a few minutes. She too made it out safely, Brooks said. Dusina’s daughter was not home at the time.

Gavin Gordon, 29, who lives in the 829 side of the double home, was in his second-floor bathroom when smoke started coming through the walls. He too safely escaped the fire through his front door.

The three-story house is on the southwest coroner of Elmira Street and Rural Avenue.

Moments after city police arrived on the scene, the kitchen window on the Rural side of the property suddenly exploded.

Heavy smoke could be seen pouring from the property several blocks away.

Once on the scene, firefighters donned self-contained breathing apparatus and stretched hoses through the front door at 831 Elmira.

The fire had already consumed the kitchen and dining room and was pushing its way into the front living room, Assistant Chief Todd Heckman said.

He ordered a second alarm, which brought additional manpower and equipment from Old Lycoming Township, Loyalsock Township and Montoursville. The fire was declared under control about 2:20 p.m.

Mark Mann, of the city, has owned the double for 15 years.

“There is extensive damage (to the place),” Mann said, adding that he has insurance on the property. He estimated that it will take at least three months to renovate the building to make it habitable.

“I was told they (Brooks and Dusina) were cooking chicken McNuggets and macaroni and cheese in the oven, and there was a pot of grease on the stove, but that the burner was not on. It was just sitting there,” Mann said.

He was very thankful that the smoke alarms worked and that everyone got out. While one of Dusina’s cats, Thor, safely escaped, another cat, Shadow, perished in the fire.

The local chapter of the American Red Cross is providing emergency assistance to the tenants, none of whom had renter’s insurance.

Thursday’s fire was just the latest local example of how working smoke alarms save lives, Heckman said.

A few months ago, a grandfather and granddaughter were asleep in a home on Hillside Avenue, but were awakened in time by smoke alarms to escape the house when a television set caught fire, Heckman said.

He also urged all tenants to get renter’s insurance.

“It is so critical because they can lose everything in a fire so quickly,” Heckman said, adding that such insurance is very inexpensive.

A second fire Thursday broke out at remote home west of Elimsport about 6:40 p.m.

When volunteer firefighters arrived at the blaze in the 3800 block of Gap Road, the house was engulfed in flames and had already partially collapsed, according to reports at the scene.

It was unknown if anyone was in the Washington Township home. The fire was declared under control about 90 minutes later.