WEST BURLINGTON -- The Pennsylvania State Police continue to investigate the cause of an early morning blaze that claimed the lives of three people Wednesday.
The victims, two women and a man, were called by friends, family and neighbors, "pillars of the community."
John E. Hulslander, 69, and his wife, Marjorie D. Hulslander, 65, both of West Burlington Township, along with Marjorie's sister, Patricia Stephenson, 69, of Towanda, died in the 1:30 a.m. blaze, which completely destroyed the couple's two-story farmhouse and brought members of five fire departments to the scene.
The farmhouse, along with a barn and two sheds, was located along Route 6, outside the borough of Burlington. The house was the only structure damaged in the blaze. Stephenson was said to be spending the night with the couple.
John Hulslander was well-known as a West Burlington Township supervisor and, along with his wife, was one of the founding members of the Burlington branch of the Troy Fire Department, according to close friend Jerri Renzo and Roy Vargson, fire chief of the Troy Fire Department. "They were my best friends," Renzo said tearfully as she looked at the Hulslanders' farmhouse, charred remains of a one-time family home. She said she had known the couple close to 40 years.
Outside and inside the home, fire marshals Tim Young and Bernie Kizes, and other troopers, took photographs, surveyed, measured and brought in a dog trained to sniff out accelerants.
Officials with the police department said late Wednesday evening that an update on the investigation would most likely not come until Thursday morning and that investigators would return to the scene "first thing in the morning." Troopers would not say on Wednesday morning and afternoon what they were looking for, or whether or not they believed the fire was suspicious. Around 12:30 p.m., more than nine hours after the blaze was reported, a state police helicopter flew low over the scene several times to take what Sgt. Lou Altieri of the North Towanda Barracks crime unit called surveillance shots from the air.
Altieri said there were many variables that needed to be looked at in regard to the cause of the fire. Bradford County Deputy Coroner Jim Bowen said the investigation into the causes of death are "continuing to be investigated at this point." As for the Hulslanders' lives, Renzo and Vargson said John Hulslander was a retired fireman as well as a longtime farmer. John Hulslander was one of the main people who pushed for a satellite fire station to be placed in Burlington for the residents of the borough and the surrounding townships, Vargson said.
Renzo said Hulslander had farmed in one way or another for as long as she could remember. She added that John Hulslander had grown up on the farm, which belonged to his family.
Marjorie Hulslander was a county auditor at one time and was also involved with the Bradford County Republican Women and was a past president. She was also involved in the Troy Fire Department's Ladies Auxiliary and, along with her husband, the Towanda Elks and the Bradford County Republican Party.
Her sister, Patricia, was well-known in the county after working for more than 20 years in the Towanda District Justice Office, before retiring several years ago. Patricia worked for Magistrates James Cox and James Powell.
Patricia was also involved in the Towanda Elks Lodge, like her sister and brother-in-law. She was also a member of the Towanda Area Senior Citizens. She had two sons, Joseph and Jack of Towanda. Her husband, Kenneth D. "Denny" Stephenson, passed away in March of 2002. Renzo said the Hulslanders' had three children, Cindy in Nicholson, Pa.; Tom, in Tunkhannock, Pa.; and Tim, who lives at Mountain Lake.
Vargson said firefighters were called to the scene of the fire around 1:39 a.m. He believes someone driving by saw the fire and stopped by the Bradford County Correctional Facility to call 911, but could not confirm this.