Seven adults and three children are confirmed dead after a house fire early on Friday, Pennsylvania state police said in a news release. In a shocking and tragic twist one of the firefighters responding to the blaze discovered the house belonged to his relatives, many of whom are now among the dead.
A criminal investigation is under way, authorities said. The children who died in the fire were aged five, six and seven.
Harold Baker, a firefighter with Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Co, told the Citizens’ Voice newspaper of Wilkes-Barre that he realized when he arrived at the scene that the victims were his relatives.
Baker said that the 10 victims the family expected to eventually be found included his son, daughter, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives.
The fire in Nescopeck was reported about 2.30am. One person was found dead inside the single-family home shortly after emergency responders arrived, while two other victims were found later in the morning.
The victims ranged in age from six to 70, authorities said. Some people were able to safely flee the burning home, authorities said, but roughly seven people remained unaccounted for on Friday afternoon.
Baker said that the address initially given for the call was a neighboring home, but that he realized it was his family’s residence as the fire truck approached.
“When we turned the corner up here on Dewey [Street] I knew right away what house it was just by looking down the street,” Baker told the Citizens’ Voice. “I was on the first engine, and when we pulled up, the whole place was fully involved. We tried to get in to them.“
Neighbors reported hearing a loud popping sound or explosion before seeing the front porch of the home rapidly consumed by flames. Some also reported hearing a young man screaming in front of the home: “They’re all dead.”
Baker, who was relieved of his firefighting duties because of his relationship to the victims, said 14 people were living in the home. One of them was out delivering newspapers, and three others escaped, he said.
“It’s a complex criminal investigation with multiple fatalities,“ Lt Derek Felsman of Pennsylvania state police said. Troopers were interviewing survivors, he said.