"A fire in Dauphin so hot it buckled siding on a store across a street and up a hill burned one home to the ground" early yesterday and severely damaged another.
The fire, which broke out about 3 a.m. at a vacant home on Erie Street, also melted the siding from Zion Lutheran Church and damaged its parish house.
It left Sandy Henry and her grandson, Robert, without a home when the vacant structure collapsed and caught their neighboring home on fire, said Judy Henry-King, Henry's daughter. Sandy Henry, who had lived on Erie Street since 1970, is staying with her daughter. Robert, 19, is staying with friends.
Neither was home at the time, Henry-King said.
The Dauphin-Middle Paxton fire company was assisted by at least five other companies and spent several hours on the scene.
"They prevented a real catastrophe," said Randolph Barr, pastor of the Zion Lutheran Church, who saw the fire. "The houses in the borough are very close together. The whole block could have gone up. They kept the adjacent properties wet."
Mike Fagan, fire company treasurer, said the fire was "very, very hot," and there is only a narrow walkway between homes. Fagan was not on the scene for the fire, but helped when it rekindled later in the morning.
The siding melted off the church even though Zion Lutheran is across a parking lot. Mike & Penny's grocery store is across a two-lane road and a one-way street from the fire, up a hill and over an embankment, but still had heat damage to its siding.
"There was lots of smoke," Barr said. "I understand now why firefighters use air masks."
Barr said neighbors went door to door to rouse residents. A few neighbors dashed into Henry's home and saved the flag that had been draped over her husband's coffin, he said. Henry is a member of Zion Lutheran.
The church will help her with her needs, Barr said, and a jar for collections has been set out at Mike & Penny's.
Henry-King said almost all Henry's belongings were destroyed. She said her mother is coping well.
Barr said he was interviewed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, which conducts an investigation whenever a church burns to see if a hate crime is involved. In this case, Barr said, "we were just collateral damage." Both the church and the parish house suffered only outside damage and are usable.
"The state fire marshal is continuing his determination of a cause."