Fire tore quickly through a house in northeastern Pennsylvania early on Friday morning, 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.
The children who died were ages 5, 6 and 7, Pennsylvania State Police said in a news release, while the seven adults ranged from their late teens to a 79-year-old man. Autopsies were planned for this weekend.
Harold Baker, a volunteer firefighter in the town of Nescopeck, said 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 swimming and other summertime fun.
He said 13 dogs were also in the two-story home, but didn’t say if he knew whether any survived.
“All I wanted to do was go in there and get to these people, my family. That’s all that I was thinking about, getting in to them,” Mr Baker said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Mr Baker grabbed a hose and air pack, and started pouring water on the fire, desperate to make his way inside and calling out to his son. His chief realized whose house it was, and fellow firefighters escorted Mr Baker back to the firehouse.
A preliminary investigation suggests the fire broke out on the front porch at around 2:30 am., Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce said on Friday evening.
“The information I have is that the fire started and progressed very quickly, making it very difficult to get out,” he said.
Three people were able to escape the blaze, Mr Sanguedolce said. Four state police fire marshals are involved in the investigation, although it won’t be classified as a criminal probe unless they determine the fire was intentionally set, he said.
Nescopeck is a small town on the Susquehanna River, about 20 miles southwest of Wilkes-Barre. The house was on a residential street of largely owner-occupied, single family homes.
Mr Baker said the address initially given for the call was a neighboring house. He realized it was his family members’ residence as the firetruck approached. He said his unit was the first on scene, and the house was already engulfed in flames.
“There wasn’t nothing we could’ve done to get in there. We tried, but we couldn’t get in,” said Mr Baker, 57, who’s been a firefighter for 40 years.
His son, 19-year-old Dale Baker, had followed both of his parents into the fire service, joining when he was 16
“He said it all his life, he was just going to be like his dad,” Harold Baker said.