BIG MOUNTAIN - One of the last three residential buildings along Big Mountain Road burned to the ground overnight Sunday into Monday, and police suspect arson.
A man who regularly drives the unpaved coal road south of Shamokin Street contacted police shortly before 8 a.m. Monday about the fire, according to Coal Township Patrolman Chris Lapotsky. Officers and volunteer firefighters from Coal Township and Shamokin responded, but the home had already been reduced to rubble.
The fire occurred about 1.2 miles south of Shamokin in the long-defunct mining village of Big Mountain in Coal Township. It got its name from the Big Mountain Coal and Improvement Co., which operated a mine in the heart of the community. The colliery closed in 1932.
The foundation, chimney and a pair of oil tanks in the basement of the former home were all that remained Monday afternoon. Grassy areas nearby were charred, showing the fire threatened to spread into the neighboring woodlands, and a vacant double-home next door was also threatened. The third building is about 200 yards north and was not in the vicinity of the fire.
There had been a brush fire in the area early Monday morning, but police ruled that out as a cause.
"It obviously was arson," Lapotsky said. "I don't know what else could have set the house on fire."
All three of the structures are vacant. There is no utility service to speak of; electricity was shut off, the water, too, long before that.
'Piece of our history'
Heather Makal and her sisters Pamela Sharp-Colvin and Donna Sharp-Perez bought the home for $2,000 at a tax sale in September 2012. They grew up two doors down and held out hopes of preserving a portion of the village, although they had no specific plans.
Jeanette Woodley owns half of the double-home that is now the southernmost ex-residence in Big Mountain. Norm Weikel owns the other half. The late Robert "Bob" Schell owned the third building.
The house that burned was admittedly more in need of demolition than renovation, Makal said Monday by telephone, but that's a choice the family would have liked to control.
Already stripped by thieves of wiring and plumbing, it had been boarded up and secured with padlocks. Trash that had been illegally dumped in the yard was cleaned up. "No trespassing" signs were posted. Makal hoped it would send a message that people may not live there but were still investing time in the property.
There was no vandalism to speak of for upwards of 10 months prior to Monday's fire.
"It was like buying a piece of our history. It was just nice to have the land back in our family," Makal said.
"We're heartbroken to see it gone," Makal said. "The house was there since the 1800s and overnight it's gone in a flash."
Abandoning the road
Members of the East End Fire Co. and Coal Township Rescue Squad responded. They were assisted by members of the Friendship Fire Co., Shamokin. All three had been at the scene of a kitchen fire on Shamokin Street prior to the call to Big Mountain.
Coal Township commissioners have recently revisited the idea of abandoning Big Mountain Road, no longer plowing or repairing the unpaved road. Such action was put on hold in December 2011.
Anyone with information on the fire is asked to call Coal Township police at 570-644-0333.
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