A Montoursville couple grabbed their 1-year-old son and safely fled their burning home on Broad Street on Saturday night, moments after a propane tank is believed to have exploded on their back porch.
Brandin Shafer was cooking on a grill on the porch "when something happened. I think a propane tank exploded," Lynette Bower, his mother-in-law, said.
"He ran through the house and got everyone out. They believe something went wrong with the gas grill," said Bower, a resident of Radio Club Road in Fairfield Township.
The fire at the back of 511 Broad St. erupted about 6 p.m. and quickly spread to the other half of the double, the 509 side, which was the home of William and Michelle Dincher and their two daughters.
The Dinchers, along with their two children, were visiting friends just two doors away at the time of the fire, Montoursville Patrolman Justin Hakes said.
The officer was just completing a traffic stop five blocks away on Mill Street when the report of the fire came over his police radio.
PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette
Two families — a total of seven people — were left homeless when a fire Saturday night destroyed this double house at 509-511 Broad St. in Montoursville.
"I was facing west, but as soon as I turned around, I could see heavy smoke already up in the air," Hakes said.
The Shafers already were out of the house when he arrived.
"The entire back of the house was engulfed in flames. It was crackling," Hakes said.
At least one vehicle at the back of the property also was on fire. Electric power lines were burning.
Firefighters from the borough, Loyalsock Township, the city, Eldred Township and Montgomery responded on the initial alarm.
Assistant Borough Fire Chief Scott Konkle ordered a second alarm within minutes after arriving on the scene. This brought additional manpower and equipment from Loyalsock Township and the city as well as from South Williamsport, Old Lycoming Township, Pennsdale and Jersey Shore.
A large column of smoke was visible at least a mile from the scene.
Firefighters initially entered the burning property and tried to prevent the fire from spreading further, but conditions inside rapidly deteriorated and everyone was pulled out, Konkle said.
"We started to have roof collapse. It just wasn't safe," Konkle said.
The blaze was three homes east of Montour Street.
Although the double house was a total loss, firefighters were successful in preventing the fire from spreading to the other homes on both sides.
The siding to one of the houses suffered minor heat damage.
Although the Shafers got out, Tanya, a secretary at the local state Department of Transportation office, suffered smoke inhalation and was being treated at the scene in the back of an ambulance, according to her mother.
The fire was declared under control at 7:45 p.m.
The Shafers are members of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in the city, and their pastor was on the scene to offer support. The local chapter of the American Red Cross also was providing assistance to both displaced families.
Shafer, an employee of Primus Technologies Corp., and his wife will stay with relatives while the Dinchers are staying with friends until they can find another place to live.
The destroyed property is owned by Thomas Bafile, a retired PennDOT engineer who lives in the borough. He said he had insurance on the property. While the Shafers had renter's insurance, it was unknown if the Dinchers had insurance to cover their loss.
Hakes said a dog died in the fire and a car owned by the Dinchers was destroyed.
A state police fire marshal is assisting with the investigation.