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Investigators believe house fire started near car in attached garage

When a fire broke out under Bill and Julie Bota’s 2013 Hyundai Elantra inside their attached two-car garage late Friday afternoon at 353 Pleasant Hill Rd. in Lycoming Township, Mrs. Bota grabbed a portable extinguisher, hoping she could put it out. However, she heard a pop and backed away.

Three Old Lycoming Township police officers were on the scene in two minutes and one of them also approached the fire with an extinguisher, but more popping sounds were heard, so the officer backed away as flames began engulfing the entire vehicle and other contents of the garage, which included a second car.

Volunteer firefighters from four communities were dispatched to the Lycoming Township scene about 5:50 p.m. Heavy smoke was visible from at least three miles away.

The garage was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived on the scene. Quickly donning self-contained breathing apparatus, a team of four firefighters stretched a hose line through the front door of the home and reached the second floor in an attempt to stop the fire from reaching the house.

However, within 10 minutes, “conditions inside rapidly deteriorated” and the crew was ordered out of the home, officials said. A ball of flames then devoured the attached home very quickly.

Responding on the initial alarm were firefighters from Hepburn Township, Old Lycoming Township, Trout Run and DuBoistown. A second alarm was ordered almost right away, bringing additional manpower and equipment from Eldred Township, Woodward Township, Nisbet, Montoursville and Jersey Shore. This was followed by a third alarm at 6:14 p.m., bringing to the scene more tankers from Washington Township, Clinton Township, Plunketts Creek Township, Muncy Area, Clinton Township and Ralston.

“It’s a total loss, the garage and home,” township Sgt. Robert Cochran said Monday afternoon. There were no injuries, but one of the Bota’s cats may have perished. One cat was seen running out of the house at the height of the fire, Cochran said.

Mrs. Bota told investigators several minutes before the fire broke out, she had just returned to the home with the Elantra after putting gas in it. She reported detecting a strange odor coming from the car, officials said.

The property is just across from the Fairlawn Community Church, which owned the home and the garage. Police said the Botas are members of the church staff, and investigators believed the couple was getting assistance from the church. The Sun-Gazette reached out to Fairlawn on Monday morning, leaving a message with someone who answered the telephone there. No one called back by deadline.

Cpl. Nicholas Loffredo, a state police fire marshal, was expected to visit the fire scene this week.

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