Investigators spent most of the day digging through the rubble of a rental home off of Mosquito Valley Road, just south of DuBoistown, trying to determine what caused a mysterious fire that burned the property to the ground early Monday morning and left one person unaccounted for.
The entire two-story property rented by Michael and Wendy Stohon, at 677 Mosquito Valley Road, was engulfed in flames when a neighbor looked out her bedroom window and discovered the fire about 5 a.m.
The couple was out of town on vacation at the time, but the whereabouts of Mrs. Stohon's son, believed to be in his late 20s and who was staying at the house, was unknown. The Stohons immediately returned to the area upon receiving word Monday morning of the fire.
PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette
A firefighter secures crime-scene tape near the driveway of the Armstrong Township residence that burned down Monday morning. The two-story property was destroyed in the blaze.
"I was in bed and I kept hearing this crackling noise," neighbor Chris Bower said.
"I thought at first that it was raining. I peeked out the window and it was all pink. I told my husband 'There's a fire.' I called 911," said Bower, who lives across the street.
"The house went up like a tinderbox," Bower said.
"There was an explosion. I heard a bang. I don't know what that was," she added.
It was unknown how long the house had been burning before the fire was discovered.
Firefighters from DuBoistown and more than a half a dozen other communities, including the city, battled the flames for nearly an hour before bringing the fire under control.
"The second floor had already collapsed into the first floor when we got here," DuBoistown Fire Capt. Nathan Maynard said, adding that it was impossible for firefighters to take hoses into the burning structure.
The fire was just south of the borough in Armstrong Township, about a half a mile off of Jacks Hollow Road.
Shortly after the fire was brought under control, fire officials notified state police, who began treating the property like a crime scene.
Cpl. Nicholas A. Loffredo, a state police fire marshal, arrived at the scene followed by state police Cpl. Harold Rinker from Rockview with his arson-detection trained dog Birko.
The house was at the end of a long driveway, about 100 yards off the road.
The media could not walk on the property as yellow crime tape was stretched across the driveway's entrance. The state police forensics crime unit also was there.
At the end of the day, the cause of the fire, which has suspicious overtones, remained undetermined, according to DuBoistown Fire Inspector Keith O'Neal.
The on-scene investigation has been completed, he said. "There was too much damage done to determine the cause and origin of the fire, but we believe it to be a suspicious fire," O'Neal said, declining to elaborate.
He said no one was found in the destroyed house, but the whereabouts of Mrs. Stohon's son remained unknown Monday night.
Investigators are concerned about his safety and they would like to question him about the fire.
The owner of the property, James R. Ertel, who lives near by, said he certainly believed the fire was suspicious.
"It's scary," he added.
The home, believed to be about 50 by 75 feet, was one of three houses on a 700-acre lot that Ertel has owned since the mid-1970s.
He believed the houses were built in the late 1930s.
The land was originally owned by Valentine "Tiny" Lupert, a very wealthy man who "had a big sawmill in DuBoistown and he owned three companies," Ertel said.
"There is a big, main home. The second property is a garage apartment that was made into a home. The home that burned was referred to as "the beach house," said Ertel.
Ertel believed the Stohons have been living in the house for about three years. His son, Kenneth, manages the three rental properties.
O'Neal said Ertel and the Stohons had insurance.