WILKES-BARRE ‚?? The Wilkes-Barre Fire Department ruled a fire that displaced a family of five Wednesday morning was ‚??intentionally set,‚?Ě City Administrative Coordinator Drew McLaughlin said.
Melvin Hall and his fianc√©e, Latasha Woumans, stood in Cedar‚??s mini-market at the corner of Park Avenue and Dana Street around 10 a.m. watching smoke billow from the nearby property.
Hall said he had been renting the upper floor for about a year and a half.
‚??I have a 4-month-old baby, and I lost everything,‚?Ě he said as firefighters fought the blaze.
No one was injured in the fire, though Hall said a pet cat apparently perished.
By 5 p.m. McLaughlin announced the fire was intentionally set and was being investigated by Wilkes-Barre police.
He also said inspectors determined the building must be razed.
The city will seek quotes from licensed contractors this morning with the intent of awarding a contract this afternoon, McLaughlin said.
Hall expressed suspicions about the blaze even as it still burned.
He said the two oldest daughters, 13 and 15, were in classes at GAR High School, but the baby had been taken to his mother‚??s home in Wilkes-Barre two days earlier after the couple smelled gas in the empty apartment below them.
Hall said UGI had inspected the lower apartment and determined it was not natural gas, but gasoline.
Hall said he then contacted the landlord but nothing was done.
County records list the owner as Viking Enterprises LLC with an address in Exeter. Attempts to contact the company Wednesday failed.
Hall also said the couple heard a loud noise before noticing the fire, and Woumans had looked out the window and seen someone running outside.
A short time later, the couple were running from the building themselves, fleeing the heavy smoke.
Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney said the blaze began in the rear of the building and firefighters initially entered the building and ‚??fought it aggressively‚?Ě on the first floor for about 30 minutes, but were forced to pull out of the house after flames worked their way into the second floor, where Hall and the family lived.
Firefighters poured water onto the house and into the windows for more than an hour before Delaney said the blaze appeared to be contained.
Delaney spoke as firefighters spread rock salt around the scene to melt sheets of ice forming on roads and sidewalks as the hoses sprayed.
‚??You could skate out here,‚?Ě Delaney said.