Two houses burn within 10 hours

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
The chimney stands alone, a testament to some of the dangers of winter heating systems. Sam Miller said firefighters told him the house was a total loss, but he was meeting with his insurance company to learn its determination. The fire started near a woodburning stove.

An electrician responded to a house fire at 8857 Kuhn Road on Thursday night, unaware that he would soon be in a similar situation. Sam Miller cut the power from the lines of his employer, West Penn Power, so that firefighters could put out the blaze. He then went on to another job during his night shift. Still at work at 8:12 a.m. Friday, he received a call from a neighbor that his own house was on fire.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Miller. His two-story home at 10809 Grant Shook Road became a two alarm fire, and sustained major damage. A passerby had phoned in the fire at 8:03 a.m., then notified a neighbor of the blaze.

First fire

Greencastle Rescue Hose Company was backup on Kuhn Road, with MMP&W the first due. Homeowner Ralph Rubeck, 73, was home alone when the fire began at 10:35 p.m. Jan. 2, and called 911. Because he was in a wheelchair, he was unable to escape, said First Lt. Tyler Myers, RHC duty commander.

Pennsylvania State Police reported that Rubeck’s neighbors and family members were able to get him out of the house. A helicopter could not transport him due to severe weather conditions, so Rubeck was taken by ambulance to Meritus Medical Center, and then transferred to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore for treatment of burn injuries. A spokesman Monday morning said he was in critical condition.

Trooper Franklin Hershey Jr., PSP fire marshall, said through a press release that preliminary indications were that the fire originated in an addition to the single family home, near the chimney or wood stove. The addition was destroyed but the rest of the residence had only minimal damage.

Firefighters were on the scene for 3 1/2 hours.

Second fire

Miller said he had been getting ready for work, with his shift beginning at midnight. He added wood to the fireplace, and several coals flew out as he opened the door. He cleaned up the area, which was protected by a brick apron and fireproof rug. He left a box of wood to the side.

Returning in the morning to watch fire companies try to save his house was difficult.

“I got sicker and sicker,” he said. “I had to leave.”

Miller built the house, including interior features such as the cabinets, trim and flooring. He lost everything in the living room, whatever was on the second floor, and his clothes due to smoke damage. He was able to save the meat in the freezer and his firearms. Firemen told him furniture in one bedroom might be salvageable, but he had not yet been inside to check. A vehicle on site was not damaged.

“The whole house is black,” he said.

Miller was meeting with his insurance company to determine damages, and put an optimistic spin on his situation.

“Everything’s good,” he said. “I’m good.”

The RHC was assisted by units from Mercersburg, Marion, New Franklin, Waynesboro, Mont Alto, Chambersburg and several companies from Maryland. The fire was under control by 9:20 a.m. and the scene cleared at 11:30 a.m.

Fire chief Kevin Barnes said the frigid temperatures presented a challenge with water freezing, and with safety for the firefighters and the equipment. The driveway was also a sheet of ice. A Waynesboro firefighter was briefly treated at a hospital.

Myers noted that because of the snow-covered roads, the response time was a little slower, with the first unit arriving at 8:11 a.m. People waiting their turn to assist “were freezing. It was 12 degrees with the wind chill.”

Miller found housing accomodations. Both fires were ruled accidental.