Monday, September 30, 2013

West Ward Blaze Kills as Many as Three People, Injures Others

By Christina Georgiou

An apartment fire at 724 Spring Garden Street, claimed
the lives of up to three people in the early hours of  Monday
morning. Seen above, a member of the Easton Fire Department climbs
a ladder shortly after the fire was extinguished.
As many as three people lost their lives early this morning and as many as three more may have been injured when a fire ripped through a home at 724 Spring Garden Street at about 1:30 a.m.

Officials offered few details about the fire at the scene, citing the in-progress ongoing investigation into the blaze and the need to confirm facts before releasing information to the public, but witnesses said the blaze started on the second floor of the duplex, which appears to have housed two apartments, though online county records list the property as a four-bedroom single family home.

Flames had engulfed the entire second story and had spread to the third story by the time the occupants tried to escape, one witness said, adding that a woman and a baby were rescued from the third floor. Neighbors said they didn't know exactly how many people lived in the upstairs apartment.

She and the child, along with an elderly man, were taken away by ambulance, witnesses said.

One witness said the woman appeared to have burns on her arm, and another said they saw medics administering chest compressions to the man. The official condition of the baby is unknown, but one woman said she carried the child to ambulance medics, and he appeared to be uninjured.

Kris Thompson, 28, who lived in the first floor apartment downstairs from the fire, escaped without injury, as did seven other residents who live in a single-family home at 726 Spring Garden St.

"All I know is, I heard a big bang and a window exploded. Then someone yelled 'Fire!', and I got out," Thompson said. His dog, Havoc, also made it out of the burning building safely.

Jason Soto, right, stands with his son behind police lines
early Monday morning. He helped one of his neighbors
escaped the blaze which engulfed their apartment and took
the lives of others.
Next door neighbors Jason and Annette Soto ran out of their home, along with five other family members at their residence, after hearing a commotion.

"We heard breaking glass," Jason Soto said, adding that he initially thought someone was breaking into either their house or a car outside. "Then we heard someone screaming 'Fire! Fire! Fire!"

He said he tried to help one of the next door neighbors escape from the third floor, and then Easton Fire Department members arrived at the scene, at which point they stepped in and rescued at least one person from the blaze.

"I saw them pull one person out, and an old man," Jason Soto said.

His haste to escape and help his neighbors left him standing shoeless and shirtless on the sidewalk.

While their neighbors' attached apartment was entirely engulfed in flames, other than the sound of breaking glass and shouting, the Sotos had no warning of the danger, Annette Soto said.

"We have smoke detectors, but they didn't go off," she said. "There wasn't any smoke in our house, but theirs was in flames."

Ellen and Tom Moskella, right, talk with an Easton Fire
Department official at the scene.
Thompson said there were no smoke detectors in his apartment at 724 Spring Garden, though property owners Ellen and Tom Moskella, of Bethlehem Township, who arrived at the scene shortly before 3 a.m. disputed that fact.

Tom Moskella said both apartments were equipped with working detectors, "unless the tenants did something to them."

County records indicate the single family dwelling at 726 Spring Garden is owned by Guillermo Aguilar, of Palmer Township.

Neighbors adjacent to where the fire broke out said they knew little about the residents that lived there, including the number of people. Thompson said they'd moved in about four or five months ago and were generally quiet.

Easton Mayor Sal Panto, third from left, talks with Easton
police officers at the scene of an apartment fire that claimed
the lives of up to three people early Monday morning.
Mayor Sal Panto, along with City Administrator Glenn Steckman, was on the scene a bit after 2 a.m.

The mayor confirmed at least two people died in the blaze, and one of them was a child.

"It's not a good day. Not good at all," Panto said.

In addition to the Easton Fire Department, the Wilson Borough Fire Department were also at the scene. At least three ambulances were called to the address, and the Easton Police Criminal Investigations Unit had arrived by about 3 a.m.

A state police fire marshal will be investigating the blaze, in addition to Easton Fire Department Chief John Bast, who is also the city's fire marshal, and city police, EFD Captain Henry Hennings said.

More information will also probably be released about the fire later today, Hennings added.

Updated at 6:05 a.m. to add more photos.

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