Investigators work to find cause of Paxtang fire that burned five garages, scorched houses

PAXTANG, Pa. (WHTM) – No one was seriously hurt in a fire that swallowed up several garages and singed a few houses Monday night, but a lot of damage was visible Tuesday as investigators worked to find a cause.

Neighbors who could see the structures on Pear Street, an alley between Rutherford and Brisban streets, say the fire started on the west end of the dead-end strip and worked its way from garage to garage toward the east.

In all, five garages fell victim, but what sparked the flames was still a mystery Tuesday afternoon.

“I panicked and I called 911,” Jess Wellman said. She saw the orange glow out the back window of the downstairs apartment she rents on Rutherford around 11:15 Monday night.

Wellman woke up her boyfriend and 2-year-old son and they all got out of the house.

“I just freaked out,” she said, “because I didn’t see any firefighters which told me that maybe nobody else saw it, maybe I was the first one.”

Turns out, someone else had called it in already, and police officers arrived to evacuate the houses near the growing fire, Swatara Township police said.

Wellman’s apartment is fine on the inside; she’s glad the wind wasn’t blowing toward them. But the siding melted off the exterior, and a couple of her neighbors had windows broken and some water damage from the response.

The flames jumped an alley in a matter of minutes, police said, catching a couple more garages on fire, along with at least a couple cars and other property inside.

“I think there’s a lot of work now ahead of them in the coming weeks to take care of the insurance side of things and replacing and repairing,” Paxtang borough manager Keldeen Stambaugh said.

A firefighter got a minor eye injury, Stambaugh said, but was treated and is okay, during the 40 minutes it took to get the fire under control. No houses actually caught fire.

“That was my first thought,” Wellman said. “It was going to hit the house because it was so close.”

Utility workers replaced destroyed phone lines as investigators combed through evidence. Tuesday afternoon, they had not come up with a possible cause of the fire or a determination about whether or not they considered it suspicious.

Wellman counts herself lucky that the fire happened when people were still awake to catch it early.

“It could have done a lot more damage, I think,” she said.

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