Flames ripped through a double home in Scranton and spread to a home next door Monday, leaving 13 people out of their homes. The fire chief said a child playing with a candle is to blame.
This was one of the first big fires in the city since the mayor laid off dozens of firefighters.
Some of the fire victims in Scranton are questioning firefighter response times after their homes went up in flames. City leaders said response time wasn't the issue; they said it was just a fast-burning fire.
The flames quickly consumed the double home on Swetland Street in Scranton. Those who were inside the home were startled by the fire that ended up destroying nearly everything they own.
"I heard someone yelling, 'Call 911,' ran out the porch, saw flames, ran in got the extinguisher, stuck it in there, emptied the extinguisher, but it was too far gone. It had a good jump start," said fire victim Steve Flatt. "I'm devastated. I'm in shock right now. It hasn't even set in."
In a matter of minutes, he watched his house turn into a ball of flames and smoke.
"Grandkids' pictures, photo albums, my tools. Everything's gone. Everything is gone," Flatt added.
Firefighters said nine people lived in the double home. Four people lived in a house next door. The fire jumped to it too.
"It was a Roman candle. If the fire department showed up sooner, they could have gotten a hold on it, I think," Flatt added.
Mike Conforti agrees. Flames spread to his house next door.
"If it's from layoffs or whatever, it's from, it has something to do with whatever has gone on in this city because the response was horrible," Conforti said.
Fire victims and a lot of others in the neighborhood were questioning fire department response times. This is the first big fire since the city laid off 29 firefighters at the end of last year.
There were other challenges, like the power lines, according to officials.
"The lines going into the building or the residence burned off right when we arrived on scene and dropped to the ground. They were still live, blocking our access up the street," explained Assistant Fire Chief Jim Floryshak.
The mayor and fire chief said the response time and staffing were appropriate. They said the fire was just too far along when the 911 call came in.
"She said it was coming out the windows and doors when she called it in. So the fire was what we call "in the air" so I don't believe anything else could have been better than what we had today," said Fire Chief Tom Davis.
"If our full compliment was available we were there as we always are, right at five minutes. Everyone was doing their job as they should have been. (At) 9:03 the call came in, 9:08 our truck was there," said Mayor Chris Doherty. "It's about fire safety; it's not about hypothetical situations. It's about did we handle it and yes, it was handled the right way and they did a great job."
Councilman Jack Loscombe was on the scene echoing the concerns. Council and the mayor have been in a long-time battle over firefighter staffing.
"It's going to be too late when we have fatalities. What price is life?" Loscombe asked.
Two people in the home where the fire started were taken to a hospital, but they don't have any serious injuries.
After the fire there were a lot of tears from some fire victims as they tried to salvage photos and documents.
Damage was so great the double home had to be torn down Monday afternoon.
The fire chief said the fire was caused by a child playing with a candle.