3-alarm blaze leaves 4 homeless in Friday fire

A couple and their 4-month-old baby, along with a man who lived alone in an upstairs apartment, safely escaped a three-alarm blaze that broke out Friday night in a three-unit apartment building in the 300 block of Brandon Avenue, city fire officials said.

Investigators said the fire was accidental and was believed to be caused by unattended cooking in a kitchen.

“We were in our living room when we heard neighbors screaming, ‘The house is on fire! The house is on fire! You guys need to get out,’ “ said Brandon Cartwright as he stood outside a neighbor’s house while firefighters worked on the blaze.

“We walked out and saw flames shooting from an upstairs window,” Cartwright said, adding that he and his fiancee and their baby got out of the house unharmed.

The fire was coming from the upstairs apartment of Joseph Denardo, who said he was “heating up some oil to make French fries” when conditions suddenly became very smoky.

“I ran into the kitchen and the smoke was getting real thick. I couldn’t even see. I came right out and called the fire department on my cellphone,” said Denardo, who has lived in the apartment for 15 years.

“The fire happened so quickly,” he added.

As firefighters raced to the scene, thick black smoke poured several hundred feet into the air and flames engulfed the entire back portion of the building at 309-311 Brandon Ave. One of the apartments was vacant.

“Flames were shooting off the back balcony when I came outside,” neighbor Don Vannucci said, adding he had been watching television when he heard pounding on his front door.

From across the street, he watched anxiously as a large orange glow of fire came dangerously close to his home, just a few yards from the apartment building.

Firefighters were successful in preventing the fire from spreading to Vannucci’s home or any other buildings.

Another neighbor, Nancy Strothers, said she was on her telephone talking with her sister when “I heard this big boom.

“I thought, ‘oh my, what was that?’ I thought at first that it was gunfire. I looked out the window and the sky was lit up (with fire),” the retired Brodart Co. employee said.

Within four minutes after the initial dispatch, a fire officer ordered a second alarm, bringing additional city firefighters along with more manpower and equipment from Old Lycoming Township and South Williamsport.

A third alarm was struck at 6:06 p.m., which brought firefighters from Loyalsock Township and Montoursville. Most of the fire was knocked down within 45 minutes.

One city firefighter suffered a minor injury but declined treatment, Assistant Fire Chief Mark Killian said.

The local chapter of the American Red Cross was assisting the displaced tenants, he added. The tenants had no insurance.

The damage estimate was in excess of $50,000, Killian said. The property is owned by Wayne Bump, no address available.