The Wilkes-Barre Fire Department has ruled that a fire which displaced a family of five this morning was intentionally set, City Administrative Coordinator Drew McLaughlin said.
The fire made Melvin Hall and his fiance Latasha Woumans as well as three children homless. The couple stood in tears in a store on the corner of Park Ave. and Dana Street around 10 a.m. watching smoke billow from the property. Hall said he had been renting the upper floor for about a year and a half.
I have a four-month old baby, and I lost everything, he said as firefighters fought the blaze. No one was injured in the fire, though Hall said a pet cat apparently perished.
McLaughlin said the fire is now being investigated by the Wilkes-Barre Police. He also said inspectors determined the building must be razed. The city will seek quotes from licensed contractors Thursday moring with the intent of awarding a contract by 3:30 in the afternoon.
Hall expressed suspicions about the blaze even as it still burned. He said the two oldest daughters, 13 and 15, were in classes at G.A.R. High School, and that 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 the type of gas used in automobiles. Hall said he then contacted the landlord but nothing was done.
He also said they had heard a loud noise before noticing the fire, and that Latasha had looked out the window and seen someone running outside. A short time later, the couple was running from the building themselves, having seen the fire.
Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney said the blaze began in the rear of the building and that firefighters initially entered the building and Fought it aggressively 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 the Hall's lived.
Firefighters poured water 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 ice forming on roads and sidewalks as the hoses sprayed.
You could skate out here, Delaney said.