OVAL - Three family members safely fled their burning home on Cold Watertown Road on Monday morning after an unmanned pickup truck from a neighbor's property descended a steep grassy hill and crashed into a propane tank at the back of the house, setting the property on fire, according to state police.
Michael and Diane Persun, along with their 30-year-old son, Shawn, escaped their house at 3074 Cold Watertown Road moments after the 11:20 a.m. crash.
"They heard something hit, something shake a little bit," a female relative, who did not give her name, told a reporter at the scene.
"They just remodeled the entire downstairs, new living room and kitchen, bedroom. It was a beautiful home," the woman said, wrestling with her emotions as she watched flames shoot through the roof of the five-bedroom house in Nippenose Township.
"Diane looked out the window and saw the propane tank laying down on the ground. She then saw the flames (around the tank and the truck) " the woman said.
A nephew of the Persuns said Michael was in the garage when he heard the crash. "He just heard a thud," the nephew said of his uncle.
PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette
Firefighters converge around a pickup truck that crashed into this house Monday near Oval.
"When he walked out back, he saw his neighbor's truck was into his propane tank. On impact, the tank ignited. The next thing he knew, the truck is fully engulfed," said the nephew, who did not want his name published.
"They were going to try to move the truck away from the house, but with the vehicle already on fire, they couldn't do anything," the nephew said, referring to the Persuns.
In addition to the 100-pound propane tank that the Persuns used for a stove, there were four portable 25-pound propane tanks in the bed of the pickup.
"When I got over here, the fire had already spread from the truck to the eaves of the house," said the nephew, who lives close by.
The truck is owned by neighbor Robert Wheeland, whose property runs alongside the Persuns' yard, Trooper Brandon Schrawder said.
What caused the truck to travel about 1,000 feet through both yards still was being investigated, Schrawder said.
He said one of Wheeland's teenage grandsons had put a dog inside the truck and had gone back inside the house. It was unknown if the truck's engine was running or what gear it was in when it suddenly started descending, the trooper said.
Nippenose Valley Fire Chief Dean Miller said he was told the dog was secured in a crate in the bed of the truck and survived the crash. Someone removed the crate before the entire vehicle was consumed, he said.
Volunteer firefighters from more than a half a dozen communities fought the fire for 90 minutes before bringing it under control.
The truck hit the house so hard that it severed not only the propane tank's service line into the house but also the line at the base of the electrical meter box, Miller said.
Investigators believe sparks from the electrical box ignited free-flowing propane that was coming from the tank, the chief added.
On its way down the hill, the truck hit a tree on the Persuns' property.
For the first 30 minutes, firefighters advanced hoses into the house in an attempt to contain the fire. However shortly before noon, all crews were ordered out of the home because it was getting too dangerous.
"The floors were starting to give way. There was fire in the attic, but we couldn't get to it. We started to lose the roof," Miller explained.
He said the house was a total loss, but no damage estimate was available.
In addition to Nippenose Valley, firefighters from Nisbet, Woodward Township, Antes Fort, Jersey Shore, DuBoistown, South Williamsport and Wayne Township in Clinton County helped fight the fire. Crews remained on the scene for about four hours.
The Persuns, who have insurance, are staying with relatives.