Intense heat hampered firefighters' efforts to extinguish a ranch house blaze late Thursday morning in Woodward Township.
Efforts to fully extinguish the blaze that left a family of three homeless extended well into the afternoon. The family is staying with relatives.
The fire that broke out about 11:30 a.m. destroyed the home of John Zwisle, his wife and teenage son at 181 Harvest St. It is not considered suspicious, according to Cpl. Nicholas Loffredo, a state police fire marshal.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
Firefighters above rest in the shade beneath trees next to a Woodward Township home where they had just put out a fire during Thursday’s intense heat.
The fire originated in an attached garage where their son had parked a riding mower after mowing the grass, Loffredo said. Riding mowers can catch fire from gas tanks and batteries, Loffredo said, but that would have to be further determined by the family's insurance company.
Zwisle and his wife apparently were not home at the time but arrived shortly afterward, Loffredo said.
Extreme heat from fighting the blaze and outside temperatures in the low 90s meant the firefighters needed to take breaks to avoid heat exhaustion.
Temperatures reached 92 degrees at about that time, according to Craig Evanego, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in State College.
Firefighters from several companies peeled off their turnout gear, stood in front of a fan that had a water hose attached to spray them in mist, drank cold fluids and rested beneath the shade of a pine tree across the street from the house.
"Temperatures inside can be 600 degrees," said city Assistant Chief Todd Heckman.
Blood pressures were checked to see if any of the firefighters were suffering from exhaustion or heat stroke.
Woodward Township Fire Co. Chief Richard Whalen said he was driving in Montoursville at the time he heard the call and immediately started to ask for assistance from other fire companies.
The blaze went to three alarms.
"I wasn't sure we'd have the turnout after the holiday," he said of his concern for sufficient manpower.
In addition to city and township firefighters and others from Lycoming County, some from nearby Clinton County responded, Heckman said. "It exceeded my expectations."
Heckman and city Deputy Chief Dave Dymeck were among the first to arrive on the scene along with township and nearby fire companies, Whalen said.
Firefighters used 600 feet of 5-inch hose that stretched from the portable storage tank set up at Route 220 and pumped it up the hill to the structure.
They trucked in the volume of water from a single fire hydrant on Route 287 seven miles away.
By about 1 p.m., the Northcentral Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross arrived to continue to provide heat relief in the form of drinks and ice.
"If that ice chest was a little bigger, I'd jump in," said a firefighter who seemed overcome after battling the fire.
Whalen said firefighters told him they first saw the garage on fire and then the roof collapse.
The extreme heat from the fire caused the siding on a neighbor's house to melt.
Once the blaze was extinguished, firefighters used a thermal imaging camera to look for hidden hot places.
"Hot spots may be smoldering at 200 degrees or more in the joists and the cameras help us from ripping and digging," Heckman said.
Loffredo said there isn't much more to do in terms of his investigation.
The next step will be for an insurance agent to investigate and examine the riding mower.
It wasn't a new mower.
"The family said it was about 8 years old," Loffredo said.