MOUNT CARMEL — Investigators haven’t confirmed what caused the fire that destroyed one North Walnut Street home and badly damaged another Tuesday morning, but Police Chief Chris Buhay said he doesn’t consider the cause suspicious.

“I would not say it’s suspicious,” Buhay said. “Every fire is investigated as a criminal investigation. Until we rule all options out, everything’s on the table. … With this particular fire, there’s a lot of street talk of wrongdoing.”

Trooper James Nizinski, state police fire marshal, said the fire ignited outside a side porch window at 434 N. Walnut St.

Flames spread to neighboring 432 N. Walnut St. Neither property is insured, according to Fire Chief Jack Williams Jr.

The cause, Nizinski said, is undetermined.

Buhay said materials collected at the scene would be tested for accelerants but added that there’s nothing obvious indicating an accelerant was involved. Buhay said electrical and “human error” — careless smoking, for example — also haven’t been ruled out.

Neither 434 N. Walnut St.

Northumberland County 911 dispatchers directed emergency responders to the scene just after 6 a.m. for a reported house fire. When Williams arrived, he said he immediately requested a second alarm. Because of the time of day, there was a risk fewer volunteers would be available, he said.

Flames spread from the front and side of 434 N. Walnut St. The blaze burned strong enough to reach across an approximate 15-foot walkway between the homes and spread to 432 N. Walnut St.

“That space was full of fire and above the roof,” Williams said. “There was a column of dark smoke.”

“All the borough units were here quick. For the time of day, they did a tremendous job getting this put out,” Williams said.

Williams said 434 N. Walnut St. sustained extensive damages and is a total loss. It’s likely damages to 432 N. Walnut St. will cause it to be a total loss, too, Williams said.

Jason Dillow, who lives at 434 N. Walnut St., said he was at work when the fire started. Williams also said no one was home at the time. The property is owned by Dillow’s father, John, who resides at 436 N. Walnut St.

Buhay, the police chief, said Patrolman Justin Stelma was among the first emergency responders on scene. Citing Stelma’s first-person account, Buhay said John Dillow had attempted to extinguish the fire on the front of 434 N. Walnut St. with a fire extinguisher.

“They were yelling for people to get out of the house,” Buhay said of Stelma and others gathered out front.

Ed Koblinski lives at 432 N. Walnut St. He said he was watching television downstairs when he heard someone outside his home.

“I poked my head out the front door and there were flames shooting out the front window and spreading up the side,” Koblinski said of his neighbor’s home.

Koblinski spoke with Nizinski before leaving for the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center. He said he was advised not to ingest any of his medication still inside his home because of the smoke and fire suppressants used inside.

The former Centralia resident said he’s lived in the home since 1974 after leaving the military.

“I really don’t want to move but what can I do if I can’t afford to repair it,” Koblinski said.

Williams explained firefighters mounted a transitional attack. Main lines from engines parked at the front and rear of the homes were used to suppress the flames on the exterior. That allowed firefighters time to quickly run additional hose lines and when the exterior flames were doused, rush inside and attack the fire from the interior.

Ladder trucks from Mount Carmel and Shamokin were used to allow firefighters access to each property’s roof, with holes cut in each to ventilate the structures.

The blaze melted siding from both homes and spread into the walls. The Dillow home at 434 N. Walnut St. was heavily charred next to the front door and to on the side of the home at its rear. Windows in each property were knocked out for ventilation.

Williams said the fire was extinguished in under 90 minutes.

A firefighter suffered a minor wrist injury in a fall, Williams said. There were no other injuries reported, he said.


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