MONTGOMERY — With a wall of flames blocking the front door, Eli Hessler and his 14-year-old daughter safely fled their burning home at Broad and First streets when a massive fire broke out about 2 pm Thursday. Hessler’s wife, Steph, and the couple’s two other children were not home at the time.
Hessler and his family were heartbroken that their three dogs perished in the multiple-alarm blaze that sent up columns of smoke that could be seen six miles away.
“I went back in to try to get the dogs out, but they would not come out, and I couldn’t stay in there,” Hessler said.
His daughter, whose name was not provided, was watching television on the first floor and happened to look out when she saw the entire front porch engulfed.
She ran upstairs to get her father, who was asleep. He works third shift.
A group of borough firefighters were at their carnival grounds, less than 300 yards away, getting ready for another night of festivities “when a borough official reported to us that there was a house fire on Broad Street. We responded right away,” firefighter and borough fire company spokesman Jesse Walker said.
“We could see heavy black smoke, and when we pulled up, the entire house was engulfed in flames,” he said. The address was 104 First St.
Fire Chief Brad Feaster soon arrived and directed fire operations.
Because the water pressure system is poor in the community, firefighters could not get enough water from borough hydrants, so additional fire department tankers were dispatched to the scene, Feaster said.
Former borough fire Chief Neal Winder, who lives in Clarkstown, could see thick black smoke from his house.
Firefighters made no attempt to go inside, but fought the blaze from the exterior because it was too dangerous and the house was already too far gone, Feaster said.
Within 20 minutes, the entire front porch and the sides of the home collapsed into burning rubble. The fire was declared under control just after 3 pm Borough firefighters were assisted by fire companies from Clinton Township, Washington Township, Muncy Area, Montoursville, Loyalsock Township, Warrior Run Area, Hughesville, South Williamsport and DuBoistown. Volunteer fire police assisted in detouring borough traffic around the fire.
Hessler said his family would likely stay with relatives. Fire officials said the family was remodeling the home, which was believed to be 100 years old or older.
Trooper Nathan Birth, a state police fire marshal, was at the scene late in the afternoon, but Feaster said it is very likely the cause of the fire will remain undetermined. Damage was estimated to be at least $150,000.
The spectacular blaze drew a crowd of spectators, who were kept at a safe distance. An excavator from Lycoming County Resource Management Services was brought in to tear down what was still standing so that firefighters could safely douse any remaining hotspots buried in the demolished property, Feaster said.