A 14-year-old boy up late working at his computer helped eight members of his family escape a fire in a Main Street apartment late Monday.
Austin McGuire said he noticed smoke entering his second-story room at about 11:30 p.m. in the large, yellow building near Sixth Avenue and Main Street. McGuire said he traced the smoke to the rear of the building, where a woodstove located in a kitchen area was ablaze, along with a pile of wood next to it.
McGuire said he hurried to wake his 11-year-old brother Gavin, who was closest to the fire, about 30 feet away from the stove. "That’s the first place I went."
He also woke an uncle and two others who were sleeping one floor above.
All nine family members evacuated the building before the arrival of fire trucks. The fire was contained in about 30 minutes.
A family cat initially reported missing was later found. Three pet birds perished. No dollar estimate of loss was available and structural damage was limited to the rear or north side of the building’s second floor.
Borough firefighter Al Badgley said the fire apparently started on the floor near the woodstove. "Something either fell or popped out of the woodstove, ignited the floor and spread to the woodpile. That’s the apparent cause by looking at the burn pattern."
The fire climbed a wall behind the woodstove, scorched the ceiling and traveled about 12 feet to a door frame. Although the fire was contained in the room, heat and smoke traveled through the building’s second story.
"There was very little structural damage but the heat ruined all appliances from the countertop on up" including a refrigerator and stereo, Badgley said.
"It was sheetrock that saved that house from being a total loss. And it saved us from being on CNN News, because we could have had nine fatalities", he said. Sheetrock walls and ceiling can add a half hour to escape time from a burning building, Badgley said.
The building is owned by former resident Dave Hoffmeister, who now lives in Glenallen. Its storefront most recently has served as a dollar store. A kitchen on the south side of the building was undamaged, Badgley said.
"All in all, everything on the (Main Street) end of the building is in good shape, although a lot of their clothing and other belongings are going to have smoke damage," he said.