Fatal fire under investigation in Nescopeck, fundraisers planned
Harold Baker was among the first fire crew to make it to the scene of a raging house fire early Friday morning in Nescopeck.
When his volunteer fire company was dispatched, he didn’t realize he would be arriving at his in-law’s home - where his son, daughter, grandchildren and other family members were trapped inside.
“The whole front of it was up in flames,” he said. “I tried a number of times to get in the back door. The flames just kept me out, I couldn't get in.”
The fire broke out around 2:30 on the morning of Aug. 5. When police arrived to assist the fire crews, all 10 victims were unaccounted for. They were eventually found dead in the destroyed home.
Baker lost his son, Dale, his daughter Star, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives. His daughter and the young children were visiting the house.
“We shouldn't be here,” he said. “I keep wishing that I’d wake up from a nightmare.”
The victims ranged in age from 5 to 79. State police say three adults made it out of the home, but the rest were found dead at the scene. The Luzerne County Coroner has ruled all 10 died of smoke inhalation, but state police were still investigating the cause of the fire as of Wednesday.
As they wait for the investigation to conclude, members of Baker’s fire company are planning efforts to support the survivors and help pay for funeral costs. Heidi Knorr, secretary and first responder with the Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Company, is putting together a fundraiser even as she wrestles with grief herself.
“You don't realize how much it literally changes you,” she said. “Two of the victims, they've grown up in our fire company, and one of them was a member.”
The member was Dale Baker. He had been training since he was 16 to become a full member of the volunteer company.
“Dale was just a really good kid. He always made me smile…. he just loved life. I wish everybody could love life the way he did,” Knorr said. “His sister Star, she also grew up in the Fire Company and no matter when they saw me, or saw any of us, they always wanted hugs … they really did love life.”
Knorr and other members of the Nescopeck and Reliance Fire Companies have started to organize a takeout spaghetti dinner at the Nescopeck Fire Hall for Saturday, Sept. 17. They put out a call for monetary donations and raffle baskets and have already felt a surge of support.
“We've started to receive so many donations already to help,” she said. “That money will be divided amongst the fire victims and to cover their funeral expenses.”
The fire company was also planning a prayer service this week and a funeral dinner to be held on Sunday, when the fire hall would normally host bingo for the community. Knorr says they have postponed the weekly bingo night for the time being.
Harold Baker has stopped by what remains of the home every day since, talking with family and remembering those they’ve lost. The three who escaped are recuperating at his home in Berwick.
“We come down here every day, saying stuff and just looking and we just can't believe it,” he said.
He said being there brings back memories of his grandchildren playing in the backyard with its two pools and a slip and slide.
“The kids love being here and that's why you've seen that three kids were here,” he said. “They loved being here.”
A memorial now surrounds the orange fencing blocking the rubble from the public - flowers, photos, toy cars, dolls and stuffed unicorns sit on the ground shaded by a row of pine trees on the property’s edge.
Baker said he hopes the community will remember his family - Dale Baker, Star Baker, David Daubert Sr., Brian Daubert, Shannon Daubert, Laura Daubert, Marian Slusser and the three children - as “wonderful people.”
“Shannon wouldn't let no one live on the street. She would take anybody and keep them off the street. That’s how she was,” he said. “And my son… he wanted to be a fireman always, and he finally became one, and then what he wanted to be took him.”