WILKES-BARRE – A fund was established with PNC Bank on Thursday for donations to help the family that lost its possessions in an intentionally set fire that destroyed an apartment on Park Avenue.
Melvin Hall, 37, and his fiancée, Latasha Woumans, 32, escaped their apartment at 323 Park Ave. with only the clothes on their backs Wednesday morning. Their 4-year-old daughter was at a relative's house and two older daughters, 13 and 15, were in school.
We lost everything, Hall said Thursday. We're taking it day by day. There is just too much damage to go back to try to save anything.
Hall and Woumans were treated for smoke inhalation at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, Plains Township.
Fire Chief Jay Delaney said an investigation into the blaze by city fire inspector Capt. Alan Klapat determined the fire was intentionally set. City police are investigating to determine who set the blaze.
About 40 minutes into fighting the fire, there was an explosion that Delaney said was likely a smoke explosion.
Two firefighters in a bucket truck forcing water into the building were only feet away when the smoke exploded. The roof lifted a few inches and debris was thrown, causing the two firefighters in the bucket truck to duck.
A video of the smoke exploding at the Park Avenue apartment was posted on Youtube.com. A smoke explosion happens when a large buildup of smoke becomes extremely hot inside a room, and the whole cloud ignites all at one time, according to firetactics.com.
It wasn't back draft because there was too much air and ventilation, Delaney said. What I believe happened was smoke exploded. I've seen it myself a few times.
Low temperatures quickly froze water runoff. Several firefighters wearing heavy gear covered in ice suffered minor injuries due to slips and falls, Delaney said.
Hall said he complained to the landlord earlier in the week about a gas odor inside the first-floor vacant apartment. Crews from UGI Natural Gas inspected the apartment, telling him the odor was not natural gas but gasoline.
Luzerne County property records list Viking Enterprises LLC as owners of the Park Avenue apartment. The company owns more than two dozen rental properties in Wilkes-Barre, Exeter and Edwardsville.
Delaney said the apartment had smoke detectors.
It goes to show that smoke detectors save lives, Delaney said.
Hall said the American Red Cross has placed his family in a motel for three days.
Late Thursday afternoon, Stell Enterprises, the only respondent to a city solicitation, was awarded an emergency demolition contract to level the building. A city release said the work will be financed by the property owner's insurance and will not impact the city's general fund.
Donations to help the victims can be made in care of the Family Arson Relief Fund at any PNC Bank branch.