Hollidaysburg community helps fire victims

HOLLIDAYSBURG- Karen Lightner said she wanted to run back into her first-floor apartment to salvage her most precious belongings.

As that thought swept across her mind, flames exploded through a large window of her apartment like the breath of a dragon, she said.

Lightner was one of an unknown number of residents who escaped a Thursday afternoon fire along the 100 block of Allegheny Street affecting at least two businesses and several apartments.

Firefighters reported no injures, but resident Audrey Riling said she doesn’t think her cat survived.

“I don’t think she made it out,” Riling said, choking back tears.

Several residents reported hearing an explosion before thick black smoke rolled through their homes, leaving many with little time to grab pets, cherished possessions or even clothing.

Lightner said the fire had started in the second-floor apartment above hers.

Hollidaysburg Borough Police Chief Jeffrey Ketner rapped on her door to get her out, she said.

Lightner said she was thankful no one was injured. She thought of the children who live in her building.

“Someone was watching over us,” she said, holding in her hand one of her few possessions: a pewter crucifix necklace that hung from her neck.

She stayed warm in a nearby Chinese restaurant as ash mixed with snow flurries in the air outside. Borough residents came from blocks away to gather at borders of taped-off streets and watch firefighters work amid the destroyed buildings.

Meanwhile, The Red Cross was providing aid a few blocks away at Zion Lutheran Church, with displaced residents trickling in throughout the evening seeking shelter and supplies while they try to decide what to do next.

“We’re providing space,” said Pastor Greg Harbaugh. “The Red Cross is using us as a base, and … we’re here to provide personal support, as much as we can.”

Volunteers brewed coffee and hot chocolate as food donations poured in from D’Ottavio’s, the Pit Stop and Allegheny Creamery and Crepes, while workers at Lindsay’s Sweets & Treats baked batches of cookies to be delivered to the church and Allegheny Street Coffee Company handed out coffee

to firefighters.

Neighbor Shawna Reilly said she was thankful she grabbed her dog, Timber, and a leash before evacuating the building, but lamented the death of Riling’s cat.

“If I’d known it was so serious, I would’ve busted in her window or something,” she said.

Riling said she and her 52-year-old son, Michael, had lived in her second-floor apartment next to Buster’s Restaurant & Six-Pack for over eight years.

“I don’t know what I have lost,” she said. “I know the roof’s gone because I saw it collapse.”

Reilly, like many other residents, said they watched as their homes were destroyed.

Resident Robert Dilling said he was watching television in a first-floor apartment next to Musselman’s Barber Shop before the fire started and noticed the picture go in and out before he heard a loud bang.

The first thing he did was grab his two rescue cats and leashes before running outside, he said, without his phone and without warm clothing.

All Riling left with was a pair of slippers with holes, she said.

Robert A. “JoJo” Murray Jr. said he was able to grab his phone and keys before flames engulfed his home of more than 20 years. He said he’s happy to be alive but is without clothing, furniture or even his driver’s license or birth certificate.

“I’ve just got to start all over again,” he said.

Red Cross workers said residents without friends or family with whom they could stay will be set up in a nearby hotel for the next few days.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435. Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.