3-alarm row-house fire in York City ruled arson


Maribel Ruelas sat across the street from where 18 hours earlier an intentionally set fire gutted the row house where her cousin lived.

The sticky smell of smoke still hung heavy around the four burned buildings in the 300 block of East Poplar Street in York City around noon Thursday about 18 hours after the flames drew crews from all around the county.

A few people, including her cousin Joel, picked through the houses, looking for any of their property they could salvage. But they hadn't had much luck, Maribel said — the fire had taken its toll, claiming pretty much all the items in the house.

"Everything," she said, "except some stuff in the basement ... a washing machine."

The three-alarm fire, which displaced six families — 11 adults and 10 kids, according to a news release from the Red Cross — and sent two firefighters to the hospital Wednesday night has been ruled arson, according to York City Fire Deputy Chief Chad Deardorff.

He said credible witness statements have indicated the fire started behind 330 E. Poplar St. on cement.

"There's absolutely nothing in that area that other than it being set that would cause that fire to start," he said Thursday morning.

It appears the fire spread to a wooden fence, and then the flames from that lit a second-floor wooden porch ablaze, he said.

And it spread quickly from there. Firefighters arriving on the scene shortly after 5:30 p.m. found heavy flames coming from the back of the row houses.

Mayday: The two firefighters hurt were treated at York Hospital for minor burns and were released later that night, according to the department. No one else was injured.

Shortly after three firefighters entered one house, two called a mayday because they were trapped on the second floor. Deardorff said firefighters call a mayday when they're in trouble and need help; it immediately triggers another alarm, bringing in more units and manpower.

The fire caused about $300,000 in damage to four three-story properties: 324, 326, 328 and 330 E. Poplar St., Deardorff said. He said the authorities had deemed 328 and 330 to be total losses.

The property at 328 was where Joel Ruelas had lived. The department's assessment made sense, as the brick row house's orange-painted exterior was marred by burns, and, with the windows broken out, the destruction inside was clear. Burnt-black walls were the only distinguishable feature left in the downstairs; everything else lay on the floor as rubble.

The other two were in a bit better shape, though — he said once the landlord gets the power turned back on in 324, the bottom two floors will be livable.

York City Police continue to investigate the incident, with help from a state police fire marshal. Anyone with information is encouraged to call the police department at 846-1234.

— Reach Sean Cotter at