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10 dead in fast-moving Pennsylvania fire, officials say

Written by Javed Iqbal

A fire described as “violent” and “vigorous” swept through a home in northeastern Pennsylvania early Friday morning, killing 10 people, including several relatives of a firefighter who responded to the blaze, according to authorities and the firefighter.

Among those killed in the fire in Nescopeck, about 45 miles southwest of Scranton, were three children, ages 5, 6 and 7, Pennsylvania State Police said. The other victims ranged in age from 19 to 79, officials said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. State police said three people had been able to escape safely.

Harold Baker, a firefighter with the Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Company, was asleep early Friday when he was awakened by the chirping of his pager, which reported a fire at a home, with 10 people possibly trapped inside.

Mr. Baker rushed to the station and was then among the first firefighters on the scene. As he turned the corner, his heart sank, he said in a phone interview Friday night. The address he had been given was wrong. His son Dale, 19, and daughter Star, 22, were inside the home engulfed in flames, he said. In fact, Mr Baker said, he knew everyone in the two-storey home, which belonged to his brother-in-law, who was able to escape.

“I tried to get in as quickly as possible,” he said. “I tried three times and then they realized whose house it was and why I was trying to go in there and they tore me off,” he said of his colleagues. “They said, ‘No, you get the hell out of here’.”

When they found Dale, a volunteer firefighter who had followed in his father’s footsteps, Mr. Baker’s colleagues a flag over his body. “They took him out as a fallen firefighter,” he said.

Star Baker, who was to be married next year, also did not make it out alive, Mr. Baker, adding that he was related to eight of the 10 people who died in the fire.

Violet Kessler of Berwick, Pa., said she was related to many of those who died.

Among the family members she said she lost were her father, a brother, a sister-in-law, a nephew and a niece who was her goddaughter. She said some family members were visiting on Thursday with plans to spend the day together on Friday at a pool and had decided to spend the night at the house.

“I don’t even understand things,” she said of the losses. “I don’t even know how to take it all into my brain. It’s like a dream.”

A neighbor, Michael Swank, said he woke up around 2:30 a.m. to the sound of popping sounds, which he initially thought were gunshots. He looked outside and saw the porch of a house across the street engulfed in flames. He said the sounds he had heard appeared to be paint cans or propane tanks igniting and exploding.

“I knew the fire department wasn’t going to get there in time” to save the house’s occupants, Mr. Swank. He neither heard nor saw any activity indicating that anyone was trying to escape the fire, he said.

“Boy, it was just a terrible fire” that spread quickly from the front porch to the upper floors, he said, adding, “It was an inferno. God bless the kids that were in there. They didn’t have a prayer.”

In addition to Dale Baker and Star Baker, state police identified the adults who died as David Daubert Sr., 79; Brian Daubert, 42; Shannon Daubert, 45; Laura Daubert, 47; and Marian Slusser, 54.

Mr. Swank said tenants in the home rarely lived there for more than a year or two.

Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

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Javed Iqbal

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