WELLSVILLE - Fire claimed a pair of houses on the corner of 14th Street and Bengal Boulevard in Wellsville on Friday morning. Though all occupants escaped safely, one house was destroyed and the other declared a total loss.
According to Wellsville Fire Chief Bill Smith, the department received a call at 6:55 a.m. from Joe Canfield, who lived with his family at 452 14th St., that the vacant house next door was engulfed in flames and spreading to his home, less than five feet away.
Canfield said his pregnant 17-year-old daughter, Alexandria Smith, was asleep on the second floor with the window open when she was awakened by the crackling of burning ivy on the side of their home. "She was yelling, 'Fire! Fire!" he said. By the time the family was outside, the entire side of their house was on fire, and 458 was completely engulfed. "There was nothing we could do," he said.
Wellsville Fire Department battled a blaze early Friday morning. Two houses were destroyed in the fire. (Photo courtesy of Steve Payne)
According to Smith, the first unit arrived at 7:04 a.m., and was soon joined by three others, with responders from Highlandtown and Liverpool Township volunteer fire departments assisting. Lifeteam EMS and Tri-County Ambulance were also at the scene, though no injuries were sustained by either residents or fire personnel.
A third home, 450 14th St., received minor water damage on the second floor, and an exterior light was shattered. Neither of the burned-out homes were insured.
The vacant house, 458 14th St., had been unoccupied for several years, though Smith reports that it had been frequently targeted by juveniles. "Neighbors said that some kids have been running in and out of there for a long period of time," he said.
"Kids got in there and partied, did this, that and the other. We were always chasing them out of there," Canfield said.
Smith said that an investigator from the office of State Fire Marshall Larry Flowers has visited the scene and is investigating with Wellsville Police. Though the exact cause of the fire has not been determined, Smith has ruled out the possibility of an accidental ignition. "It definitely was arson," he said.
Canfield was critical of the response from Wellsville fire crews, saying that firefighters did not respond quickly enough and, once on the scene, didn't do enough to save his home. "When they got here, they basically did a controlled burn on our house," he said.
Canfield and his family are staying with his brother-in-law in Liverpool Township. Although he said they lost almost all of their possessions, Canfield believes that he and his wife, Angel, and their daughters, Alexandria and 11-year-old Tessica, are fortunate to have escaped with their lives.
"Five minutes later and we would have all been dead," he said.