NEW CASTLE —
Bronte Baxter was at home with her two babies Monday when she saw flames at the back of her house.
“I was in the living room and saw fire in the kitchen,” the resident of 602 Taylor St. said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and I went upstairs to get my phone.”
When she descended the stairs, the house was filling with smoke. Wearing only a white T-shirt as outer clothing, she grabbed her children — Ethan, 16 months, and Caleb, 3 months — and heard the kitchen window break as she ran out of the house with them, she said.
Within minutes, flames were through the roof and windows and gusting winds had caused them to spread to the house next door, owned by Robert and Debbie DiBello.
Their home, only about six feet away, was soon engulfed too, with flames ascending through the center of the house and through the roof.
Three families — two living in the two-story duplex at 602 Taylor St., and the DiBellos at 604 Taylor St. — were left homeless.
The initial call to 911 was at 9:58 a.m.
Baxter’s husband, Norman, was at work in Cranberry.
Amanda Tooch, who lived in an apartment in the duplex, had taken her son, Brayden, 6, to school and returned home to see the raging fire, she said.
Her dog, a 2 1/2-year-old red Husky named Taboo, and her cat were in the house.
She believes the cat died in the fire.
Mathew Bucceri, who co-owns Smart Spark Auto and ATV Repair on Taylor Street, got the dog out by breaking down the door, she said.
Bucceri gave his account of the effort. He noted he was working in his shop Monday — his 30th birthday — when a pedestrian walked in and said it looked like the house next door was on fire.
He went outside, he said, and saw a small fire on the back porch.
“I called 911, and by the time I called, the fire had pretty much involved the back of the house.
“The lady who lives in the one side of the duplex came driving up and said her dog and cat were inside,” he continued.
Bucceri went over and kicked in the door and got the dog out, he said, but he was unable to find the cat.
Debbie DiBello sat in a chair in a back alley, crying and distraught as firefighters from New Castle and Shenango Township fought to save the houses using extra manpower and a tower truck.
The Union Township Volunteer Fire Department manned the New Castle station.
The DiBellos had owned and lived in the house for 37 years.
“I knew this was going to happen someday,” DiBello told her friend, Darlene Nero, who stood with an arm around her shoulder.
Debbie DiBello had been at the bank when the fire started, said Nero, who lives nearby.
Nero said she had been driving up the hill when she saw the rolling smoke and flames and called 911.
“Everybody was calling 911.”
Nero said she plans to assist the couple with finding a place to stay.
New Castle Fire Chief Mark Panella said there were problems with water when crews initially started fighting the blaze.
The tanker carries 750 gallons, but it got used up quickly, he noted. As firefighters went to use the hydrant, it blew out and they had to fix it, he said.
“Then we had to start all over again.”
Mike Kobbe, assistant city chief, said the fire apparently started in a wall in the kitchen at 602 Taylor St.
“It’s most likely electrical, but we’re not sure yet.”
Both structures were a total loss, Kobbe said.
Preliminary estimates are $35,000 for the property and $25,000 for the contents at 602 and 602 1/2 Taylor St. and $30,000 for the property and $25,000 for the contents at 604, he said.
Kobbe said the duplex has out-of-town owners.
A section of Taylor Street was closed for most of the morning and early afternoon.
Firefighters were on the scene for about four hours, officials said.
Bill Rupert of Harrison Street, pastor of Life Changing Ministries, said he is going to help the Baxters with their needs.
“I’m going to help them with lodging, and a couple of other pastors in the area are going to help, too,” he said.
Information will be forthcoming about how people can make donations to help all three families, he said.
Kevin Brown, an American Red Cross spokesman, said the agency is assisting the two families from 602 Taylor St. with food, clothing and shelter.
The DiBellos are getting assistance elsewhere, Brown said, adding, “We would help them, too, if they need us.”