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Family forced out by afternoon blaze

By Staff | Jul 21, 2016

PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette More than a half a dozen fire companies battled this house fire near the Columbia-Lycoming county line on Saturday afternoon. In this photo, firefighters vent one of the roofs. A Millville area family of four was left homeless. There were no reports of injuries.

MILLVILLE – A family of four was left homeless on Saturday July 9 after an accidental fire – apparently sparked by a propane tank – extensively damaged the family’s house on Ants Hill Road near the Lycoming-Columbia county line.

The local chapter of the American Red Cross was providing emergency assistance to Karen Jacobs; her daughter and son-in-law, Sarai and Jeff Spring; and her 9-year-old granddaughter, Lorrene Jacobs.

Karen Jacobs said she was inside the house sitting on her couch just before 4 p.m. when she heard what sounded like a hissing noise coming from an outdoor propane tank that supplied the family’s kitchen stove.

“The tank was on fire as was the grass around the tank,” said Jacobs, who has lived in the house for more than 30 years. She and a family friend visiting the home both called 911.

Everyone in the house safely got out, including the family dog.

Jacobs also grabbed a garden hose in an attempt to extinguish the fire, but when Millville Fire Chief Robert Bower arrived on the scene, it had already spread to the home.

“There was heavy smoke coming out from under eaves, everywhere,” Bower, the first to reach the scene at 934 Ants Hill Road, said.

“The fire spread after it got up underneath the roofline at the back of the house,” Bower explained.

More than half a dozen volunteer fire companies from Columbia, Montour and Lycoming counties battled the Madison Township fire for more than 90 minutes before it was brought under control, Bower said.

With temperature reaching near 90 degrees, firefighting crews had to be relieved continuously.

“It was real hot inside and outside of the house,” Washingtonville Assistant Fire Chief James Roberts said.

“The conditions were excruciating, very brutal,” Roberts said in describing the heat.

Since most of the home was hidden by brush and trees, Bower said he couldn’t not see any smoke until he pulled into the driveway. The home is about 200 yards from the Columbia-Lycoming count line.

“Firefighters made an interior attack, but conditions inside were very difficult. It was very smoky. Crews could not see to get up to the second floor at all. Smoke was banked down (to the floor),” Bower said.

“There was a lot of material in the home, making it difficult for the firemen to move around,” he said.

Over the years, there had been a number of additions to the property, which also made it difficult for the firefighters to put out the fire, Bower said.

Besides Millville and Washingtonville, firefighters from Buckhorn, Espy, Benton, Unityville, Muncy Area, Hughesville and Lairdsville battled the fire.

Bower said Jacobs told investigators she had no fire insurance. He said it appeared the outdoor propane tank was a contributing factor in causing the fire, but it still was under investigation.