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Firefighters battle Apollo blaze for hours

| Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010

A stubborn fire gutted a house at 311 North Fifth St. in Apollo on Wednesday afternoon, leaving at least three people homeless.

It took firefighters from more than a half-dozen departments about four hours to knock down the bulk of the flames that burned through the roof of the two-story, wood-frame house.

Bystanders said a woman who lived on the first floor was sleeping when the fire began about 1:15 p.m.

She reportedly heard the smoke detectors and escaped unharmed with her dog; her cat was unaccounted for.

The identities of the downstairs tenant and the house's owner were not immediately available.

Kenneth George, who rents the upstairs apartment with his mother, Thelma George, said neither of them was home when the fire started.

"This is the second time my house has burned down," Kenneth George said. Now 28 years old, George said he was about 9 when his family's home on Seventh Street in Apollo was destroyed by flames.

George said they do not have renters' insurance.

"This is the second time we lost everything," he said. "Next time, we'll get insurance."

Several of George's tools were recovered, but he was skeptical that many of their possessions would be saved.

Apollo No. 3 Fire Chief Mike Mollick said a state police fire marshal would investigate the fire's cause, but Mollick did not believe it was suspicious.

Neighbors said the fire appeared to start in the first-floor kitchen area.

Five hours after the fire began, crews still were spraying water and fire-suppressing foam on hot spots and using tools to rip away smoldering pieces of the roof, gutters and pale green siding. Firefighters were called back to the house at 8:15 p.m. when the flames rekindled.

Heat sickens firefighters

Not only was the fire difficult to extinguish, but the firefighters were working in hot, humid conditions. Temperatures soared to a high of 93 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, and Wednesday was declared an Air Quality Action Day.

Mollick said five firefighters were treated for heat stress.

"It's a very hot day to be fighting fires," Mollick said.

Paramedics and volunteers constantly distributed water, juice and freeze-pops to crews who rested on the steps and yard of Richard Lookhart's house across the street on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Lookhart said he was working in his basement when his stepson, 14-year-old Kenith Walters Jr., yelled there was a fire nearby and the family's vehicles needed to be moved.

Walters said he was in his backyard working on his all-terrain vehicle when he felt the heat radiating from the fire.

Lookhart, who is related to the George family, said he ran toward the burning house to make sure everyone had escaped when he saw firefighters had arrived.

Mollick said the ongoing sewer-separation project did not impact water availability for firefighters.

Since he arrived later in the afternoon, Mollick was not certain whether any rescue vehicles had difficulty accessing the scene as a result of the dug-up streets caused by the project.

Route 56/66, also known as Warren Avenue, was limited to one lane for much of the afternoon near the fire scene.

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