WEST HAZLETON — Fire crews responded early Thursday morning to a suspicious blaze at a vacant home that neighbors say should have been boarded up or demolished after it caught fire a few months ago.
Fire crews were dispatched to 201 N. 3rd St. at 1:56 a.m. for a reported structure fire, West Hazleton Assistant Fire Chief Era Gould said.
Borough police arrived on scene first, followed within a minute or two by West Hazleton and Hazleton City fire departments, who found fire in the kitchen area of the first floor, Gould said.
Firefighters had that fire extinguished within 10 minutes. But after ventilation fans were placed in windows and doors, flames broke out again on the second floor, so additional crews were deployed with hand lines.
Fire ravaged the basement and first and second floors, Gould said, adding that the other side of the three-story double block home — 203 N. 3rd St. — had sustained damage during a fire there in April.
Gould is calling the fire suspicious and said a state police fire marshal has been called in to investigate.
Peter DeMarco, who lives directly across the street, said the home was vacant when flames broke out there five months ago. “Nobody’s done nothing to get it taken down or closed up,” DeMarco said. “Two blocks over and one block down, there’s another building the same way. We’re just waiting for something to happen.”
DeMarco suspects vandals are responsible for the fires, he said, and he’s concerned about the safety of nearby residents, neighborhood children and firefighters. Other neighbors raised similar concerns.
Gould said the structure was secured after the initial fire investigation there in April. Asked why it was no longer secured, Gould said “more than likely, it was unauthorized people in that house.”
Later Thursday, the borough secretary said Code Enforcement Officer Dan Zola would not be available to comment until next week, but she said he advised the Streets Department employees to board up the North Third Street home.
Mayor Frank Schmidt said borough employees are working to keep vacant structures secured, “but you can only do so much.”
“These properties belong to people and they’re responsible to keep them secure. Everything has to be done legally,” said Schmidt. “You can’t just go on people’s properties and do things.”