HAZLETON — A fire at an abandoned house kept Hazleton firefighters busy for more than four hours on Thursday evening.
Hazleton Fire Chief Arne Dettbarn said his crew was called out at approximately 8 p.m. Sept. 10, to 109 First St. N.E., after neighbors reported hearing a loud boom or explosion and seeing the house full of flames. The chief said the house was fully engulfed upon arrival.
“After we got the fire knocked down some and were able to get inside, we did not find any evidence of an explosion or meth lab as some had speculated,” Dettbarn said. “The front door and south picture window were blown out by the heat of the fire. That is probably what neighbors heard.”
The house has been unoccupied with no utilities to it for some time, according to Hazleton City Clerk Lisa Baych. The property has been on the city’s radar for possible acquisition and teardown for neighborhood improvement, but no formal actions had been taken so far. Baych said cleanup of the property now would likely be on the agenda for the next City Council meeting on Sept. 16.
The single-story, wood-framed home had seen four different roof additions over the years, and Dettbarn said fire has a way of hiding between eaves and roof lines, making it difficult to put out completely. The Hazleton Fire Department, with manpower and support from Aurora Fire Department, fought the blaze until after midnight. Hazleton firefighters were called back to a hotspot that flared up at 3:30 a.m.
It was raining at midday Friday, as Amanda Bowser of Westgate stood looking at the charred ruins that had once been her family home.
“My mom Charlene Gafford had cancer and died in this home in 2017,” she said, as the memories brought tears to her eyes. “This was my family home. We moved here in 1991. I was raised here.”
Amanda said that although the home had been vacant for some time, many of her family possessions were still there and she hopes to find some mementoes if she is able to get inside. After looking into the burned out rooms through blown out windows, she is doubtful.
She said the fire has added to the grief she still carries from her mother’s death and also the loss of her brother Nathan Bowser to illness last December. He was just 30.
“It’s like another piece of my life is gone,” she said looking at the remnants. Amanda did not want to speculate on how the fire started, however, she rationalized that since there were no utilities hooked up, nothing but a person could have caused it.
“I can only imagine it was an accident. I don’t want to think it was intentional. That would be malicious, and my mom never hurt anyone,” she said.
Dettbarn also thinks the fire was likely accidental. He speculates there may have been a squatter in the home before the fire. He heard that a homeless person had taken up residence there, according to a number of reports around the neighborhood.
“Perhaps the person was smoking or trying to keep warm. Whatever happened, I feel bad for the homeless. They are (homeless) for a reason and it’s not for me to judge,” Dettbarn said. He said he did not know who the person might be.