Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP
NESCOPECK, Pa. – Fire quickly tore through a house in northeastern Pennsylvania early Friday morning, killing seven adults and three children and horrifying a volunteer firefighter who arrived to fight the blaze only to discover the victims were his own family, authorities said.
The children who died were ages 5, 6 and 7, Pennsylvania State Police said in a news release, while the seven adults ranged from their late teens to a 79-year-old man. Autopsies were scheduled for this weekend.
Harold Baker, a volunteer firefighter in the town of Nescopeck, said the 10 victims included his son, daughter, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives. He said his two children and the other young victims visited their aunt and uncle’s home for swimming and other summer fun.
He said 13 dogs were also in the two-story home, but did not say if he knew if any survived.
“All I wanted to do was go in there and get to these people, my family. That’s all I thought about was getting to them,” Baker said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Baker grabbed a hose and air pack and began pouring water on the fire, desperate to get in, yelling for his son. His chief realized whose house it was and other firefighters escorted Baker back to the firehouse.
A preliminary investigation indicates the fire started on the front porch around 2:30 a.m., Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce said Friday night.
“The information I have is that the fire started and progressed very quickly, making it very difficult to get out,” he said.
Three people were able to escape the fire, Sanguedolce said. Four state police fire marshals are involved in the investigation, although it will not be classified as a criminal investigation unless they determine the fire was intentionally set, he said.
Nescopeck is a small town on the Susquehanna River, about 20 miles southwest of Wilkes-Barre. The house was on a residential street with mostly owner-occupied, single-family houses.
Baker said the address originally given for the call was a house next door. He realized it was his family members residence when the fire truck approached. He said his unit was the first on the scene and the house was already engulfed in flames.
“There was nothing we could have done to get in there. We tried, but we couldn’t get in,” said Baker, 57, a 40-year firefighter.
His son, 19-year-old Dale Baker, had followed both his parents into the fire service when he was 16.
“He said it all his life, he just wanted to be like his dad,” Harold Baker said.
Heidi Knorr, Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Company secretary, called Dale Baker “such a fun-loving soul. He just loved life.”
The family was “always willing to help lend a hand to anyone in need,” Knorr said. Dale’s mother was not among the dead listed by Harold Baker.
Mike Swank, who lives two doors away across the street, said he happened to be awake early Friday and looked outside after hearing a sharp explosion. He saw that the porch was “really going” and went outside and used another neighbor’s hose to keep the fire from spreading to a garage.
“I saw two guys outside and they were in various states of hysteria,” Swank told the AP by phone.
One man was on a cell phone, “and I’m trying to ask him if everybody’s out,” he said. “The other guy was out on the street and he was just running around in circles.”
Swank said he was unable to get information from them. A fence prevented him from getting to the back of the property.
Baker said 14 people lived in the home. One was out delivering newspapers, and three others got away.
Swank said the family had moved in a few months ago under what he understood to be a rent-to-own arrangement and spent a lot of time on the messy front porch.
“It was so fast and so much smoke, you just knew nobody was going to make it,” Swank said. He saw cadaver dogs being used to search the site until the bodies were found.