5 homeless after South Side blaze

PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette
This fire at 701 W. Southern Ave. in South Williamsport broke out about noon on Thursday and took about 50 minutes to bring under control.

PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette This fire at 701 W. Southern Ave. in South Williamsport broke out about noon on Thursday and took about 50 minutes to bring under control.

A mother and her 5-year-old son safely escaped their South Williamsport home on Friday afternoon, minutes after a fire broke out in a first-floor bathroom, according to borough police Sgt. James Taylor.

Sara Bauer told investigators that her son alerted her to the fire at 701 W. Southern Ave. about noon.

She got the boy to the front porch and then went back in to try to put out the fire with water but was driven out by intense heat and fire. She called 911.

Her boyfriend, Earl Smith, was not home and her two teenaged children were at school at the time, Taylor said.

“Everyone is safe, everyone is out,” Taylor told a news reporter as heavy smoke, visible as far as Brandon Park in the city, poured several hundred feet into the air.

“There were flames showing from inside a first-floor window on the west side of the home when I arrived,” Taylor said, adding that Bauer and her son already were out of the house when he reached the scene.

As firefighters from the borough, DuBoistown and Loyalsock Township arrived on the scene, crews began attacking the blaze both from the front as well as the back of the house, borough Deputy Fire Chief John West said.

Volunteers donned self-contained breathing apparatus and took hoses into the home, but the intense fire already had spread to the upper floor, West said. Nisbet firefighters soon arrived on the scene too.

“The interior stairwell acted as a chimney, pulling the fire to the upper floor,” West said, adding that firefighters tried to carry a hose to the second floor but were forced to quickly back out because the steps had started to collapse.

“It was so hot, the fire drove one crew out,” he added.

The same crew then attacked the fire by climbing a ladder and entering the second floor on the west side of the structure, West said.

Additional firefighters from the city, Woodward Township and Montoursville were dispatched to the blaze, which burned out of control for nearly 50 minutes.

One volunteer firefighter suffered a minor burn to his hand but declined treatment, West said.

An estimated 40 firefighters responded to the fire, which West said “was a good response for the time of day” the alarm sounded.

Once the fire was extinguished, Cpl. Nicholas A. Loffredo, a state police fire marshal, inspected the damage and determined that it had originated in the bathroom, in the area of the vanity, West said.

The cause will remain undetermined because no ignition source could be located, he added.

The displaced family did not have renter’s insurance. They are staying with friends or relatives.

Bauer rented the home from Matthew Cowden, of Williamsport, who did have insurance on the structure, investigators said.