Firefighters battled a blaze Friday afternoon that destroyed this house on Railroad Avenue in Newberry Township.
Firefighters battled a blaze Friday afternoon that destroyed this house on Railroad Avenue in Newberry Township. (Erin James Photo)

Update:

Two homes on Railroad Avenue in Newberry Township burned on Friday, leaving 16 people displaced.

The first house, where coal ashes likely started the blaze, was deemed a total loss, said Gary Hatterer Jr., chief of the Newberry Township Fire Department. There was about $300,000 worth in damages, including the contents of the home, he said.

The second house probably caught fire from an ember from the first house, although there's no way to know for sure, Hatterer said. There were no signs of other causes, he said.

"There was nothing suspicious with the second fire," Hatterer said.

There was about $30,000 in damages to the second house, he said.

Hatterer originally was informed that two dogs died in the blaze and one escaped, but that was an underestimate: Seven dogs perished in the fire, and two dogs escaped, he said.

Original report:

A fire, likely caused by the discarded ashes of a coal stove, completely gutted a family's Newberry Township home Friday afternoon.

About an hour into battling the blaze on Railroad Avenue, firefighters noticed smoke rising from another home down the road.

Whether that was a coincidence, or if wind blew embers from the first fire to the second home, is not yet clear, said Gary Hatterer Jr., chief of the Newberry Township Fire Department.

"Fortunately, we were here," he said.

The top floor of the second home was significantly damaged, but the structure was not destroyed. One woman was home at the time and was able to escape without injury, Hatterer said.

Hatterer said a conversation with the homeowner of the first home at 25 Railroad Ave. leads him to believe the fire began near a coal stove.

The man said he'd dropped some ashes and "thought he had it out," Hatterer said.

Before long, flames were shooting out the back of the house.

The rest of the family - four adults and three children - were not home at the time.

None of the home's seven inhabitants or firefighters were hurt Friday, but two dogs are assumed to have died in the blaze. One dog escaped, Hatterer said.

The afternoon was particularly emotional for Hatterer, who said he grew up in the neighborhood and knew the family well.

He called them "lovely people" who would "give the shirt off their back if someone else would need it."

"They're like my second parents," he said. "I grew up with their kids."

Hatterer said he had to put emotions aside when he arrived on scene Friday.

"I knew what I had to do," he said.

The Red Cross has been called to assist the family.