By Rob Wheary, Staff Writer
HEGINS – One hour earlier, Steven Schwalm was eating his sandwich inside his home before heading back to work.
“I ate, took the dog out to do his business, and then brought him back in and went back to work,” Schwalm said. “I got a call an hour later saying, ‘You got to get home, your place is on fire.’ “
The 2:33 p.m. fire Monday is believed to have started in the basement of the single-family dwelling at 159 W. Mountain Road and started to move up into the walls quickly.
“Chief Radel and the Sacramento first responders on scene found heavy smoke pushing out of the roof and the rear of the building,” Hegins Valley Fire Rescue chief Doug Williams said Monday. “There was heavy fire in the basement that extended into the walls and ascended into the attic.”
With such a fast start, Williams credited the fact that blown-in insulation in the walls slowed down the progression of the flames.
The chief gave credit to the Sacramento firefighters working to put out the heavy flames inside before the fire really got going.
The area the home was located is without any kind of hydrant or high-pressure water access, forcing the fire companies to rely on their own self-contained water supply from the truck and tankers before reinforcements could arrive.
“The incoming units did a very good job,especially faced with the amount of smoke coming out, especially with not knowing where the fire was at,” Williams said Monday. “Getting into the basement and knocking it down. The ladder unit from Pine Grove cutting the roof to vent the structure so we could get a better look at what we were dealing with. Everyone did a great job, especially with this time of day when there isn’t that much manpower around.”
Steven Schwalm could only watch as the smoke continue to flow out of his home, listening to the chainsaw cut through his roof to vent the structure.
“My cousin drove by here 15 minutes before the fire call came in and didn’t see anything,” he said. “There was no indication that there was any problem. It just happened so fast.”
While he worried about the home, the biggest worry came about the family pet, a 13-year-old Weimaraner.
“He is old and big,” Schwalm said. “There’s no way he survived that.”
Schwalm’s fears were confirmed when they carried his dog out of the home, along with several personal effects from the family, Schwalm, his wife, Shannon, and their two children, Ryan, 19 and Brianna, 15.
Williams said that the structure suffered heavy fire damage in the basement with smoke and water damage throughout the rest of the home. The crews had it under control in about one hour and left the scene at approximately 5:45 p.m.
The chief said Tuesday that he and Hegins Township’s fire investigator went through the home and determined that the fire was caused by some faulty electrical wiring in the basement.
“There were some exposed electrical wires in the basement and they malfunctioned,” Williams said.
The family was renting the home from Keith Kline, of Towanda, who is insured for the loss. The Schwalm family did not have renter’s insurance on their belongings. The American Red Cross reported they were helping the family at the scene.
A Facebook post by a web designer offered several ways the public could help the family. Either by contacting them directory or going to any local Wells Fargo Bank branch location to donate to the “Schwalm Fire Victims”.
Shannon’s brother, Chad Brode, started a GoFundMe page for donations which accumulated close to $8,000 in the first 24 hours. Anyone wishing to donate can go to https://www.gofundme.com/q5xfx7wc.
Hegins Valley and Sacramento fire crews were assisted on the scene for the three-alarm blaze by volunteer companies from Joliett, Pine Grove, Yorkville, Donaldson, Lavelle, Berrysburg, Newtown, Llewellyn, Tremont and Butler Township.