Seven adults and three children have died in a house fire early Friday, Pennsylvania state police said in a press release. In a shocking and tragic turn, one of the firefighters responding to the blaze discovered the home belonged to his relatives, many of whom are now among the dead.
A criminal investigation is underway, authorities said. The children who died in the fire were five, six and seven years old.
Harold Baker, a firefighter with Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Co, told the Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice newspaper that he realized when he got to the scene that the victims were his relatives.
Baker said the 10 victims the family expected to eventually be found were his son, daughter, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives.
The fire in Nescopeck was reported around 2.30 am. One person was found dead in the single-family home shortly after emergency services 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 escape the burning house safely, authorities said, but about seven people remained missing Friday afternoon.
Baker said the address initially given for the call was a neighboring home, but he realized it was his family’s residence as the fire truck approached.
“When we turned the corner here on Dewey [Street] I knew immediately which house it was just by looking down the street,” Baker told the Citizens’ Voice. “I was on the first bike and when we stopped, the whole place was completely involved. We tried to get in with them.”
Neighbors reported hearing a loud popping sound or explosion before seeing the porch of the house quickly consumed by flames. Some also reported hearing a young man screaming in front of the house, “They’re all dead.”
Baker, who was relieved of his firefighting duties because of his relationship with the victims, said 14 people lived in the house. One of them was delivering newspapers and three others escaped, he said.
“It’s a complex criminal investigation with multiple fatalities,” said Pennsylvania State Police Lieutenant Derek Felsman. Soldiers questioned survivors, he said.