A Devastating Day.
Reported by Andrew Leibenguth, Times News Correspondent.
It took only seven hours for three large eastern Schuylkill County fires, located within a 25-mile radius, to claim two lives, displace 15 people, destroy seven homes, gut a large warehouse, and raze a Christian retreat complex early Thursday morning.
The third and most devastating fire, which claimed the lives of two women, destroyed seven homes, and displaced 15 people, ignited about six hours after the first fire began.
The fire whistle sounded at 5:22 a.m. for the 70-90 block of Water Street in New Philadelphia.
Firefighters from all over arrived on scene to see large billowing clouds of smoke and rising-fire emanating from an entire block of row homes from 74-86 Water St.
Despite their quick response and fast actions, the bodies of 56-year-old Maureen Wallace, and her 34-year-old daughter, Marietta Wallace, of 78 Water St., were recovered nine hours after the fire started.
They also owned two pets, a cat "Margo" and dog "Jaja." The two women owned and operated a bar, "Vettes" in New Philadelphia.
Neighbors, friends, and community members were in shock and mourning when they heard of the deaths. Many believe the fire was the work of an arsonist.
A number of unsolved arsons and various other unexplained fires have devastated residents of New Philadelphia, especially on Water Street, over the past few months, and years.
This was the first fire to claim any lives.
Thursday's fire was the latest in a string of fires in the borough in the last two years. The latest was a tire and garbage fire set on Tucker Hill in New Philadelphia on Oct. 13. Another fire razed a vacant home at 47 Silver Creek Rd., Blythe Township, near New Philadelphia, on Oc. 17. An arson fire was ignited on Oct. 7 in the former Josh's Restaurant located at 35 Water St. That fire also claimed homes from 37 - 43 Water St.
On Oct. 17 of last year, another arson fire completely destroyed Moe's Pub, a popular hangout located at 57 Water St., as well as heavily damaging two adjacent homes located at 53 and 55 Water St. In late 2008, an arsonist also burned and destroyed an unoccupied home at 45 Wiggan St. on Nov. 11. That fire also damaged a vacant home at 47 Wiggan St.
Also in August of 2008, a fire was ignited at 45 Wiggan St.
Immediately following Thursday's blaze, police taped-off a large perimeter around the destroyed block of row homes, as the location is considered a crime scene. Detectives point out that this is standard procedure when deaths are involved.
A state police major crime task force, which consisted of a number of state fire marshals and a large number of detectives, spent many hours going door-to-door interviewing neighbors and sifting through all the blackened remains. Trained state police dogs were also brought in. One of the row homes destroyed, 80 Water St., also served as the Dolores Beauty Shop.
"We lived here our whole life," nearby resident, Katina Chiccini, stated. "It is the saddest I've seen it. We lost people we cared about."
One of the homes evacuated included a newborn baby. Ironically, the night before the fire, volunteer community members in New Philadelphia held a crime watch meeting during which some of the discussion evolved around the unsolved arsons of the past months.
Power was out for most of the day for surrounding residents, while firefighters battled the blaze and investigators sorted through the rubble. A lot of New Philadelphia residents, who blame this fire on arson, asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. They said they are scared and want this person caught. Responding to the scene were volunteer firefighters from almost 20 fire companies, numerous ambulances, and New Philadelphia and Tamaqua Fire Police. State Police fire marshals, detectives, and other investigators are still investigating the cause of the blaze.
"The hardest thing is dealing with the casualties," said New Philadelphia Fire Chief Al Gilbert.
Trooper Edward F. Maloney is asking anyone with any information concerning this fire or others in the borough to call the Frackville barracks at (570) 874-5300 or the PA Crime Stoppers at 1-800-4PA-TIPS (1-800-472-8477).
Full Story: http://www.tnonline.com/node/153265
74-86 Water St, New Philadelphia Fire, November 18, 2010, TamaquaArea.com