Vicky Ickes has lived in her Maple Avenue neighborhood just two blocks from Veterans Memorial Field for the past 47 years.
On Sunday afternoon, she proclaimed, "I love this neighborhood," but she did so while watching stoically and in the comfort of family and friends as her home at 2609 Maple Ave. was gutted by a fire.
The blaze, which is under investigation by Altoona City Fire Inspector Tim Hughes, endangered two other homes and left 12 people, including several children, homeless.
Mirror photo by Phil Ray
Firefighters from the Altoona Fire Department work to finish extinguishing a fire that destroyed a home at 2609 Maple Ave. on Sunday afternoon. At least 12 people were displaced after the fire also damaged two neighboring houses.
"I'm glad everybody made it out alive," said Ickes, who thanked the Altoona Fire Department for its quick response.
But she said it took a heroic effort by a visitor to her home to avoid what would have been the ultimate tragedy - the possible loss of her 23-month-old great-grandchild, Giovanni BonGiorno, the son of Kayla Nichole DiCapra and David BonGiorno, who was asleep in a crib on the second floor of her home when the fire started.
Ickes isn't sure what happened.
She was on the first floor and said she heard a "loud bang."
She went to go upstairs to check the baby but found the second floor engulfed in thick smoke. She
couldn't make it to the second floor.
That's where a visitor to her home, identified by neighbors as Joel Kyle, pushed through the smoke and was able to rescue the child.
Cindy Ickes, Ickes' sister, and others at the scene called the rescuer a hero.
Others in the neighborhood heard the loud bang and peered outside to see what was happening. Ickes shouted there was a fire.
The house to Ickes' left, 2607 Maple Ave., was occupied by Michael Farris, his girlfriend and daughter. He said he heard the bang and quickly left the residence when informed there was a fire.
The home to Ickes's right, 2611 Maple Ave., was occupied by Brett Robison, his wife Ashley Petrauskas and their children, Nickolia, 8, Brett, 5, Bailey, 4, and Douglas, 3.
The children were dressed in their night clothes, and although it is May, the windy afternoon brought a chill to mom and the kids. The mother and neighbors wrapped the youngsters in blankets, and Ashley shed tears because the family dog, Caesar, was still inside their home.
Those tears turned to a smile when a city fireman entered the home and brought the combination Shih Tsu-Yorkie outside and handed the pup to Robinson. It wasn't long until the dog was under the blankets with the kids.
A large crowd gathered to watch events unfold, and for a while nerves were raw, and tension was evident.
City police arrested one man for public drunkenness.
He protested his arrest, as did his wife.
Then an argument broke out among members of two families. It became louder and more disruptive as police wrestled with the alleged intoxicated male, Albert Yohn, 45, of 110 13th St. and argued with his family. He was charged by city police with public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
An officer finally shouted to the gathering crowd, "Everybody leave in the next 30 seconds, or you will be arrested. ... Disperse."
It was while the crowd was moving away that the jawing between the two families continued. That led to the arrest of a young woman, Brooke Patterson, 19, of 1020 18th Ave., for disorderly conduct.
Altoona Deputy Fire Chief Michael Tofano said the call for the fire came in at the change of shifts, which meant the 13 firefighters from the day shift were able to join their 13 colleagues from the evening shift in response to the blaze.
Tofano said the first thing was to make sure everybody was out of the homes.
Then the firefighters began pouring water on the Ickes home.
Other firefighters went into the Farris and Robison homes to stem any spread of fire.
"Our firefighters gave an incredible amount of effort," Tofano said.
Many of the firefighters came outside the homes for a breather and some water. An area was set up to check the vital signs of the firefighters, who had made several entries in and out of the homes. No medical problems or injuries were reported among the firefighters.
As the fire in Ickes home gradually faded, Tofano reported the structure at 2607 Maple Ave. sustained water damage but should be okay in a couple of days.
The home at 2611 Maple Ave. sustained more extensive water and smoke damage and fire damage to the attic The two homes that received the lesser damage could not be occupied Sunday night, but the American Red Cross was to provide temporary housing for the 12 people who were displaced.
The baby was treated at UPMC Altoona, and Ickes reported her great-grandson was doing well.