All 10 victims in horrific fire died of smoke inhalation: coroner

ASSOCIATED PRESS

All 10 people found dead after an early morning fire in northeastern Pennsylvania last week died of smoke inhalation, authorities said Monday.

Autopsies were completed Saturday and Sunday on the victims of the early Friday blaze in Nescopeck, according to the Luzerne County coroner’s office. A ruling on the manner of death for all 10 — classifying the deaths as accidents or homicides, for example — is pending the results of the state police investigation into the fire, officials said.

Positive identification of the victims is also pending review of medical records, dental records and DNA if required, the coroner’s office said. State police said seven adults ranging from late teens to age 79 were killed along with children ages 5, 6 and 7.

The county’s district attorney, Sam Sanguedolce, said a preliminary investigation suggests the fire broke out on the front porch around 2:30 a.m. on Friday. Three people were able to escape the blaze, which destroyed the structure. The cause remains under investigation.

Nescopeck is a small town on the Susquehanna River, about 20 miles southwest of Wilkes-Barre.

The fire tore quickly through a house in northeastern Pennsylvania early Friday, killing seven adults and three children and horrifying a volunteer firefighter who arrived to battle the blaze only to discover the victims were his own family, authorities said.

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Harold Baker, a Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Co. firefighter, said by phone that the 10 victims included his son, daughter, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives. He said his two children and the other young victims were visiting their aunt and uncle's home for summertime activities like going to a swimming pool.

He said 13 dogs were also in the two-story home but didn't say if he knew whether any survived.

One of the victims, 19-year-old Dale Baker, was a firefighter who had joined the company when he was 16, said Heidi Knorr, the fire company's secretary.

“He was such a fun loving soul,” she said in a phone interview. “He just loved life.”

Firefighters set up lights in front of a fatal house fire at 733 First Street in Nescopeck, Pa, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. The fire in Nescopeck was reported around 2:30 a.m. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
(Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP)

Both of Dale Baker’s parents are members of the fire service, and the family was “always willing to help lend a hand to anyone in need,” Knorr said. Dale's mother was not among the dead listed by Harold Baker.

Mike Swank, who lives two doors away across the street, said he happened to be awake at that hour and looked outside after hearing a sharp explosion. He saw the porch “was really going” and went outside, using another neighbor’s hose to keep the blaze from spreading to a garage.

“I seen two guys outside and they were in various states of hysteria,” Swank said in a phone interview.

One of them was on a cellphone, “and I’m trying to ask him if everybody’s out,” he said. “The other guy was out in the street and he was just running around in circles.”

Swank said he wasn’t able to get information from them. A fence prevented him from getting to the back of the property.

“It was so quick and so much smoke, you just knew nobody was going to make it out,” Swank said. He saw cadaver dogs being used to search the scene until the bodies were located.

He said the family moved in a few months ago under what he understood to be a rent-to-own agreement.

He had not gotten to know them, but noticed they spent a lot of time on the home's cluttered front porch.

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.

“The kids that were there and my two kids were just visiting their aunt and uncle," Baker told WNEP. "Those were the ones who own the house. They were there visiting and going into the pool and all that.”