July 16--Fire broke out in the second-floor apartment of a historic North Whitehall Township building Tuesday afternoon, killing 61 cats and two dogs inside, officials said.
The pets were in the 4701 Route 309 apartment of the property manager, Allan Fedor, and his wife, Rayna Devore, according to North Whitehall fire Marshal Don Jacobs.
Jacobs said it was a shocking scene.
"When I walked in, the animals were deceased all over every floor space," he said.
There was no evidence the pets were mistreated, he said, but "it was probably a pretty crowded place."
Fedor and Devore were not home when the 12:05 p.m. blaze began, and the three other people who lived in the three-story stone and stucco building were not hurt, Jacobs said.
Schnecksville fire Chief Ron Stahley said one firefighter was overcome by heat exhaustion on the hot and humid afternoon. He was treated at a hospital and released.
The fire appears to have started in the kitchen, but not on a stove, Jacobs said.
"I do not find it suspicious," he said. "I would put it more toward accidental and clearly not malicious."
Jacobs credited Stephan Skweir, owner of the ANS Coins office on the first floor, with telling workers at the Allstate Insurance office next door and two youngsters upstairs to leave.
"He found two kids, young teens," Jacobs said. "They had seen smoke through their kitchen window, and they hid in their bedroom. They were very much in danger.
"Skweir's the one who got them out," he said. "That's very big in my book."
Skweir also went looking for the cats and dogs, Jacobs said.
"He said he expected to hear the dogs barking upstairs when he went up to notify everyone, but he didn't hear anything, which meant all the animals were deceased by smoke inhalation," he said.
Stahley said 60 firefighters from at least 14 fire companies fought the blaze, which was quickly extinguished, but kept firefighters on the scene for hours checking for hot spots.
Five adults and two children, living in three apartments, were displaced, he said. The American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley was called to provide them temporary lodging, food and clothing.
The worst damage is to the apartment where the fire began, Stahley said. An apartment below it had water and smoke damage. The other apartments, including two that had no tenants, also had damage.
"None of the units are inhabitable," the chief said.
He said the volunteer firefighters managed to save the basic structure of the building, which may be 200 years old and was "one of the township's first anchors, a hotel, when the stagecoaches came through."
"It can be repaired," Stahley said.
Jacobs said he will continue investigating the fire with the help of a state police fire marshal and an insurance company.
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