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Fire tears through house in Fallowfield Township

| Friday, July 26, 2013, 12:11 a.m.

A fast-moving fire gutted one side of a Fallowfield Township house Thursday afternoon, not long after the owners had left for an early dinner.

The fire started before 2:30 p.m. in a rear room of the one-story house at 929 Bentleyville Road, which is also state Route 2023.

Firefighters from Fallowfield Township and four other departments were able to quickly knock down the outer flames, which neighbors said began pouring out of the structure in seconds.

First Capt. Andrew “Dude” Popelas and state police Fire Marshal Chad Scrip were initially unable to contact the owners, Chuck and Gail Mack.

The couple left about 30 minutes prior to the fire call.

The Macks returned home early Thursday evening and were “devastated,” said Scrip, adding they planned to stay overnight in Washington with friends.

Scrip could not immediately determine the fire's cause but continued to investigate the charred rooms, checking electrical connections, until 8 p.m.

Flames tore through the walls and melted the aluminum siding in both the front and rear of the house.

“I was the first one on scene, and the fire was already blowing off the front porch,” Popelas said. “We fought it back and were able to force entry ... and contained it to the two rooms on the right side of the house. The bulk of the fire was in the rear, right corner of the house.”

The left side of the house, including the kitchen, sustained heavy water and smoke damage. Scrip said the house likely was rendered unlivable, because flames burned into the rafters.

Neighbors gathered next door and said Macks had moved in eight or nine months ago.

Next-door neighbor Michael Bennati said he had returned from work and was in his garage when a motorist pulled into his driveway and shouted that the house next door was burning.

Bennati called 911 before trying to use a garden hose to douse flames coming from a side window.

However, he backed off when more flames blasted through a nearby window.

“I've never seen anything burn so fast,” Bennati said. “Once that window blew out, the fire just spread, and you could hear the glass exploding.”

Because of intense heat, Mon Valley Emergency Medical Services provided a rehab area for firefighters.

Firefighters from Charleroi, Bentleyville, Lock Four and Stockdale responded to the call.

“Sometimes these fires can get pretty stubborn, but everything went smooth,” Popelas said. “The neighbors said by the time they called it in and got off the phone, it had already blown out the windows and just took off.”

Scrip said he and veteran Fire Marshal Steve Thompson would return Friday morning to determine the cause.

“We've narrowed it down to an electrical problem,” Scrip said. “That's all I'm comfortable saying until I get a second opinion.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2635.