Fire Guts Apartment Building in Old Forge

OLD FORGE -- More than a dozen people were out in the cold after a big fire in Lackawanna County.

Flames ripped through an apartment building on Oak Street in Old Forge just after 2 a.m. on Thursday.

The Old Forge fire chief tells Newswatch 16 the fire started in a third-floor apartment.

About a dozen people lived inside this apartment building. Two people who lived there were removed from the burning building by Old Forge police and taken to a hospital.

Officer Colleen Catanese noticed the flames through a window across the street while she and her partner, Officer Robert Harris, were doing routine business checks. That's when they went to the third floor and started getting people out, knowing full well that had they not seen the fire, who knows how quickly it would have spread and how badly things could have ended.

"It was kind of like a curtain fell," said Catanese. "Very dark, very black smoke, very thick. Our eyes were burning and we were coughing, but your concern isn't yourself, it's to get everybody in there out. It was a nice feeling this time getting everyone out safely. There were some minor injuries, nothing life threatening that we know of. It was a good day."

The Old Forge fire chief said everyone else made it out safely.

Some people inside the apartment complex credit their pets for waking them up and getting them out.

"My dogs lay on my chest," said Joseph Tomczyk.  I have one here and Buddy started barking because he smelled smoke. I know my dogs. My dogs warned me."

Tomczyk lived in the apartment building for about four years and spent most of the morning collecting what he could from the damaged building.

"It's a living hell," he added. "I salvaged what I can like a couple guitars and a base amp [but] everything is gone."

A neighbor tells Newswatch 16 the whole thing happened so fast.

"I didn't know what to think; I just reacted so quickly and got everyone out. That was the only thing on my mind, my daughter, one, and seeing a single mom by herself, I just wanted to make sure they got out," said Andrew Cotto.

"The lady upstairs recently just moved in. She has a month old daughter and a two-year-old daughter. I had to get them out the house," said Cotto added.

The state police fire marshal was on scene earlier but the chief tells us the cause of that fire is still under investigation.