City police are investigating the cause of an early-morning two-alarm fire that routed four people from a wood-plank home Sunday in the 800 block of First Street.
Flames and smoke blocked the front door so the tenants, two men and two women, were forced to make their escape through a back door about 12:30 a.m., investigators said.
One of the tenants, Anthony Brown Jr., discovered the fire when he saw the reflection of flames in the window of a house, just a few feet away.
Brown managed the house at 834 First St. for his father, Anthony Brown Sr., of the city, and lived there with Albert Miller, Brandi Harmon and Bessie McDill, each of whom rented a bedroom, according to fire investigators. Brown alerted the other tenants to the fire in time so that all four could get out.
Brown suffered smoke inhalation and was taken to the Williamsport Regional Medical Center, where he was treated and later discharged, investigators said.
"The entire front porch was on fire," said Jonni Rai, whose lives next door in the home where Brown first saw the flames' reflections.
Rai just got home from his shift at the Williamsport Regional Medical Center, where he works in the housekeeping department, and was watching television when he heard pounding on his front door. It was a police officer telling him he had to get out because the house next door was on fire.
"When I came out, the fire was terrible. It was really smoky," Rai said.
Arriving firefighters quickly donned self-contained breathing apparatus and entered the burning house with hoses.
They also directed a hose on Rai's home, preventing flames from reaching his property.
"The firefighters saved my home. They did a great job," Rai said.
A second alarm was ordered immediately, bringing to the scene additional firefighters and equipment from Old Lycoming Township, South Williamsport and Loyalsock Township.
A thick column of white smoke could be seen as far west as the city's bus garage, seven blocks away.
Scores of onlookers gathered to watch the inferno, many recording the action on their cell phones. City police pushed most of them back as a safety precaution.
At one point, the front porch roof suddenly collapsed as South Williamsport volunteer firefighter Charles O'Brien was working on it. When it gave way, he went down with it, but he escaped injury, officials said.
The fire was declared under control about 1:30 a.m., but the firefighters' night was long from over. Crews remained on the scene dousing hot spots past 4 a.m.
A South Williamsport firefighter, who was not identified, was treated at the hospital for heat exhaustion.
The house was a total loss. None of the renters had insurance, but Brown, the owner, did, officials said.
The local chapter of the American Red Cross is providing emergency assistance to the displaced.
Agent Trent Peacock, a city police detective and a trained fire investigator, was dispatched to the scene to help investigators determine the cause of the blaze.