SHAMOKIN — One woman died and six tenants have been displaced after an apartment in the city’s Bunker Hill section caught fire Tuesday morning.
Tenants and police officers attempted to rescue 75-year-old Patricia Schminkey as the fire spread inside her street-level apartment at 130 E. Dewart St. but were unable to safely enter, according to Shamokin Fire Bureau Chief Bruce Rogers.
Flames burned through the three-room apartment, engulfing the front entryway and an adjacent doorway into other parts of the building, Rogers said. Fire burned through the floor in the front room, opening a hole and creating a hazard for firefighters, he added.
Patrolman Ray Siko, the city’s fire investigator, and Trooper James Nizinski, state police fire marshal investigated. According to Siko, an apparent electrical malfunction sparked the blaze between the basement ceiling and the floor above, spreading up to Schminkey’s apartment. The cause is ruled accidental, he said.
The fire was reported just before 6:30 a.m. Rogers said it was brought under control quickly. From the scene, it appeared extinguished at 7:30 a.m. but firefighters worked to "overhaul" the building and locate any hot spots in walls and ceilings.
Northumberland County Coroner James Kelley and Chief Deputy Coroner James Gotlob were on scene. Schminkey was pronounced dead at the scene and was identified by family at the morgue at Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital. According to Kelley, Schminkey died of carbon monoxide toxicity.
The building is a brick structure, a former commercial building retrofitted into a six-unit apartment. It’s three levels tall but because of its construction on the hill, its top floor is street-level on Dewart Street. All three levels are visible at the rear from Sunbury Street (Route 61).
Firefighters from Shamokin Fire Bureau, with assistance from members of Coal Township Fire Department, mounted an interior attack. Hose lines were run into the front apartment and snaked to side and rear entrances. The roof was cut open to ventilate the structure.
While fire damage was largely limited to the street-level apartment, firefighters worked to prevent flames from spreading through ceilings and walls throughout the large structure.
Rogers said of the six displaced tenants, four are adults and two are children. He said at least two of the units, possibly three, were vacant. Rogers said the building may be a total loss.
American Red Cross was on scene to assist the displaced with temporary housing and other immediate needs.
Cpl. Bryan Primerano and Patrolman Josh Pastucka along with Constable Samuel Spigelmeyer were first on scene and tried to enter the burning apartment, Police Chief Darwin Tobias III said.
Members of the Mount Carmel Fire Department assisted.