Chief: Hoverboard sparked multi-home blaze, displacing 13
Union Fire Chief Joe Stevens said a hoverboard sparked a three-alarm blaze that destroyed one townhouse and damaged four others in an early-morning fire in Manchester borough.
A 12-year-old girl from 210 Royal Drive plugged in a hoverboard to recharge in the basement, but both the hoverboard and the outlet started sparking and smoking, Stevens said, causing her to run upstairs and alert her mother.
In moments, thick smoke caused blinding inside the townhouse, but the two adults and six children living in the rental home made it outside safely, he said.
The family roused their neighbors in the five attached townhouses, all of whom made it outside without injury, according to the fire chief.
"We're very fortunate that everyone got out and no one was injured," said Stevens, who urged people to get rid of their hoverboards because of their dangerous batteries.
Fire crews were dispatched to the block about 3 a.m. Monday, Oct. 23.
Home collapsed: More than 100 firefighters from a dozen or so York County fire companies and departments — about 90 percent of them volunteers — battled the raging flames, but 210 Royal Drive was too far gone to be saved, according to the chief.
"In less than the first 20 minutes of our arrival, 210 collapsed," Stevens said. "It fell into itself, which left us with a burning heap and extension (into attached townhouses)."
Firefighters routinely run into burning buildings, but in this case they had mounted only an exterior attack of 210 for safety reasons, he said.
"What saved our firefighters' lives is that there was such a huge volume of fire, we did not put people into the building," Stevens said.
Had crew members been inside, they would have been trapped — or worse, he said.
Firefighters did go inside the adjacent townhouses at 208 and 212 Royal Drive, both of which sustained heavy fire damage, according to the chief.
"But those buildings are still standing and the residents can at least go back in and get some belongings — some clothes, maybe some photos," Stevens said.
He said he suspects all three homes will have to be torn down.
$500K-plus in damage: Total damage is expected to exceed a half-million dollars, Stevens said.
The three adults in 212, the one adult and one child in 208 and the eight-member family from 210 all are displaced, he said.
Stevens said 206 Royal Drive — occupied by two adults and a baby — sustained moderate smoke damage and minor fire damage and that 204 Royal Drive — occupied by several people — had some smoke damage. The townhouse at 202 Royal Drive, where two adults and a baby reside, wasn't damaged, he said.
In all, Stevens said 13 adults and children were displaced and 20 people total were affected. They are a mix of renters and homeowners, he said.
The family at 210 rented their home but had no renter's insurance, according to the chief. He said having such insurance is "a must."
"They literally lost everything," he said. "There was nothing salvageable."
The family did have working smoke detectors, but they were alerted to the fire by the 12-year-old before the alarms began sounding, the chief said.
Gas and, in some cases, electric service have been shut off to the row of townhouses, so even though residents at 202 and 204 weren't displaced they could choose to stay elsewhere until utilities are restored, he said.
Lori Krebs of Manchester said her daughter and 22-month-old granddaughter lived in 208, but weren't home at the time. They had just moved in three weeks ago, she said.
"It was a blessing that they were away," Krebs said.
Some of her daughter's possessions are salvageable, but her clothing and other items aren't, according to Krebs.
Lightweight construction: Stevens said one Union firefighter was hosing down a soffit when it simply fell to the ground just a few feet in front of him.
"A couple more feet and it would've been a bad day," he said, adding that newer homes often have "lightweight construction" in which, say, glues and staples are used in place of nails.
"It's designed to be inexpensive ... but it comes at a cost,," Stevens said. "Lightweight construction is killing our firefighters."
Fire crews cleared the scene between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. but returned a short time later to douse a smoldering mattress from a baby's crib, he said.
A state police fire marshal was notified of the blaze, Stevens confirmed.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD. Staff reporter Christopher Dornblaser contributed to this report.