WELLSBORO - Ninety-year-old Leon Curtis remains in guarded condition Thursday at Strong Memorial Hospital, in Rochester, N.Y., after he suffered "serious" burns to his legs in a fire at his 1004 Reese Hill Road home Tuesday afternoon.
Borough Fire Chief Lonnie Campbell said he and the state police fire marshal spent about 2 1/2 hours at the Charleston Township scene Wednesday.
"We were able to determine the fire did start at the rear of the home, outside on the deck area," Campbell said, though a cause has not yet been determined.
"We have not yet been able to pinpoint a cause, and the fire is still under investigation, but it is not considered suspicious," Campbell said.
According to Campbell, Curtis was carried from the burning home by a neighbor, James Browning, who entered the home when other neighbors said they heard someone inside calling for help.
Browning, a former Marine, according to Campbell, is the son of Tioga County Prison Warden Terry Browning.
Campbell said he had been unsuccessful in trying to reach Browning, who left immediately after he rescued Curtis. When Campbell arrived on the scene, Curtis was being treated by ambulance personnel and a medical helicopter had been dispatched.
Curtis' family, his daughter, Vicki, and son-in-law, Michael, were not at home at the time and have been at their loved one's side since the fire, so Campbell said he was able to get only limited information from them.
"During the course of investigation, we are trying to be sensitive to the fact that their priority is him. They have given us pretty good information, but we are trying to pinpoint a cause," Campbell said. "We have some questions as far as any issues they may have had with outdoor power sources or receptacles."
Neighbors who were waiting for children to get home from school at a bus stop nearby were helpful, Campbell said, supplying information about where they saw flames and basically giving dispatchers an account of the progression of the fire.
Campbell said when he arrived, the older farmhouse was showing "heavy fire, primarily at the rear of the structure, and it had burned up to the roof peak and gotten into the attic."
"There was heavy heat and water damage throughout and the home is uninhabitable, so the family is staying with relatives in the area," Campbell said.
Because of the age of the structure, Campbell said firefighters ran into a few "stumbling blocks with multiple layers of wall coverings and ceilings that had been put in," but they were able to get the fire under control in about 40 minutes, he said.
About 25 to 30 firefighters from the borough, Middlebury and Mansfield responded with tankers and stayed on scene until about 6 p.m., Campbell said. Water also was available from a nearby pond.
Campbell said outside points of origin are fairly common in non-suspicious fires.
"We run into an outside origin very often, even a grill too close to siding will ignite the siding of a home," he said.
This time of year when wood burning becomes more common, "people will put hot embers in an inappropriate container or put them outside too close to the house," he added.
Campbell said the Bernards do have a fireplace in the living area of the home and had used it on a couple of recent cold mornings.
"But they said that there shouldn't be any ashes or material on the porch, and we found no indication of any kind of container or burnt log that may have been set out there," Campbell said.
The family also indicated that Curtis was "perfectly mobile and self-sufficient when they were gone for the day at work."
"I expect we will probably not ever know exactly what happened," he said.