Girl, 11, found safe at father's home after Lawrence County fire
A Lawrence County family lost their home early Wednesday to an intense fire but avoided the heartbreak they feared for 45 minutes when they thought a young girl was trapped inside.
A mother who rescued one daughter and had to be saved while rescuing her son thought an older daughter remained in the Neshannock home as flames kept her and emergency responders from getting in about 4:30 a.m., officials said.
“She suddenly remembered the 11-year-old was staying with the child's dad. We confirmed that with dad,” said Neshannock police Lt. John Rand.
“There was a real change in the mood when we found out,” said Brian Melcer, deputy chief of the volunteer fire company.
The woman, identified by police as Jennifer Bees, and her 6-year-old daughter went to Jameson Hospital in New Castle for what Rand called minor injuries. Paramedics took Bees' son, 16, to UPMC Mercy, Uptown, in critical condition. Police did not identify the children.
Jameson discharged Bees and her daughter about 8 a.m.
The drama began when neighbor Barbara Prestopine across the street awoke to use the bathroom and saw flames coming from the front of Bees' small, square home on Kings Chapel Road, in a rural part of the township. Prestopine called 911.
“I went outside and the 6-year-old and her mother were in the yard calling for the other kids,” said Prestopine, 70, who brought the child to her home. She said the girl's hair was singed but she appeared OK.
When Officer Shawn Hill and an unidentified passer-by arrived, Bees had broken through a bedroom window to save her son, Rand said. Hill and the man reached in and pulled Bees and her son out. The boy was unconscious, Rand said. Hill was unharmed.
As other police and firefighters arrived, they tried reaching through windows to search for the 11-year-old, whom Bees said was sleeping in a bed near a window, Rand said.
“She probably panicked, you know,” Prestopine said.
The flames and smoke became too intense and they had to abandon the attempts, Rand said.
“We went about 45 minutes in an attempt to get the fire to where we could get in and search for what we thought was a body,” Melcer said.
The fire burned through the roof, which collapsed. Rand said state police investigators will wait for warmer weather to dig through the roof and ice on top of it. Temperatures hovered around minus 10 degrees.
Bees told police she fell asleep on a couch in the living room and awoke to fire above her head. Investigators will examine whether an electric heater in that room caused the fire.
As the burned out shell of the house smoldered hours later, a woman pulled up and asked reporters if the 11-year-old was found safe.
“Yes!” she exclaimed when hearing the news, before driving off.
David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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