Residents Escape Pa. Blaze by Jumping from Windows

One man was critically injured while escaping a Pottsville apartment fire that displaced several families.


May 25--An apartment fire Saturday in Pottsville displaced multiple families and killed a dog and two birds.

The fire at 218 W. Market St. was called into the Schuylkill County Communications Center at 5:24 a.m., a supervisor with the communications center said.

"We had heavy fire coming out of the front door and dark, black smoke out of all three floors," Pottsville Assistant Fire Chief Bill DeWald said.

"Eventually, we had fire on all three floors," he added.

He said crews were able to knock down the fire in about 20 minutes. A search was conducted twice and no one was found in the structure.

The Red Cross was on scene to provide food, clothing and shelter.

The fire department was on scene until after 10:15 a.m. but returned in the afternoon to look for hot spots.

State police Trooper Michael Yeity from the Reading barracks was called to investigate the fire with Pottsville police Patrolman Joseph Murton Jr.

"Right now, it is undetermined," DeWald said, adding that a cause of the fire will probably not be determined until Tuesday or Wednesday. He did not know how the extent of the damage Saturday.

People jumped from windows to escape the fire, Mike Wieczorezk, who said he lives in the building, said.

Jamie and Jess Ebert were among those who jumped to escape the blaze.

Jamie Ebert jumped from the second-floor window and was taken to Geisinger Medical Center, Danville.

"Police told him to jump out the window," Wieczorezk said.

A nursing supervisor said he was listed in critical condition as of 4:40 p.m. Saturday.

Wieczorezk's dog, Rosie, a collie, woke him up and helped save him and his wife, Nancy.

"She ran into the bedroom and jumped on the bed," Wieczorezk said.

He said he opened the door, heard a "crackling sound" and then saw flames going up the steps.

They escaped out the back door with their dog but not before trying to alert others.

Jason Rhen, 37, and his fiancee, Erika Romanchik, 26, lived on the first floor.

"All I know is I woke up, and there was smoke," he said, adding that the fire alarms were going off.

"The front door was just engulfed," Romanchik said.

The couple escaped with one of their two cats, Nala. They did not see their other cat, Sara. The cat is gray and has a collar with a little bell on it.

Nadir Muhammed, 20, and Angela Beaver, 29, were staying with Juanika Lick, 57, who lived on the first floor. A friend told Lick that a firefighter said her cat, Snowball, did not survive.

"I lost everything in the fire," Muhammed said.

Nicole Kline, 30, who lived on the third floor with her daughter, Makayla McDermott, 2, was thankful her cousin, Bryan Evans, 28, slept over Friday.

"My cousin woke us up, and we went out the fire escape," she said.

A pitbull owned by her brother, Eric Kline, did not escape the fire. Her brother was not home at the time of the fire.

Samara Hoffecker, sister of April Beckford, who lives at the building with her daughter, Asia, 8, and Dre, 9, her son who visits on weekends, said the family was not home at the time of the fire.

Hoffecker said birds belonging to Beckford did not survive.

Kyle Collins and Melinda Knoll were also displaced by the fire.

Pottsville fire Chief Todd March said there was "a lot of fire damage" and smoke damage to the Belton building at 212 W. Market St.

Mike Ghannoum, owner of the apartment building, said 13 people were on the leases at the building. The others were visitors, he said.

However, there seems to be some discrepancy as to who actually lives in the building. Ghannoum said he was unaware that Muhammed, Beaver, Collins and Knoll lived in the building.

Ghannoum, who has insurance, said the building is probably a total loss.

March said the smoke alarms saved lives.

"If there were no smoke alarms, we would have lost people," he said.

The Pottsville Fire Department responded, along with the Schuylkill Haven Rapid Intervention Team, Pottsville Police Department and Pottsville-Schuylkill Haven EMS. The Alert Fire Company from Saint Clair and the fire company from Port Carbon were on standby, Dewald said.

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