Fire Engulfs Montgomery Township Home (video)
One person reportedly burned, taken to hospital. Home was owned by Joanne Harris, the art department chair at North Penn High School
A single-family Montgomery Township home belonging to the North Penn High School art department chairperson was destroyed by fire Monday morning in the Heather Knoll neighborhood bordered by Route 202, County Line Road and Upper State Road.
County radio reports indicated that all the occupants were evacuated from the house at 119 Bellows Way and that one person had suffered burns. That person was reportedly transported to Abington Memorial Hospital.
Rick Lesniak, director of fire services for Montgomery Township, confirmed that a male resident of the home was taken to Abington Memorial Hospital, but declined to comment on the specifics of his condition.
The American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania dispatched volunteers to aid the family displaced by the fire.
However, the family declined aid from the Red Cross, according to Sara Smith of the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Montgomery County property records indicate that the home is owned by Glenn and Joanne Harris.
Joanne Harris is the art department chair at North Penn High School.
The initial call to the county's 9-1-1 dispatch took place at about 11:08 a.m. Crews were on the scene about 10 minutes later.
By 11:45 a.m., much of the rear of the house had been destroyed and significant heat damage was visible to the facing wall of the adjacent house at 117 Bellows Way.
Lesniak said multiple callers to 9-1-1 reported hearing "booms" as the fire started.
"The occupant of the house exited the building, and called 9-1-1 approximately the same time neighbors called to report the fire," Lesniak said. "Due to the amount of fire we encountered upon arrival, we called for additional assiatance."
Lesniak said a cause and origin could not be determined Monday.
Lesniak said the fire was concentrated to the rear of the home.
Chris Smith, a nurse at St. Luke's in Quakertown, lives in a nearby home on Bellows Way in the Canterbury development.
She was getting home from a 12-hour shift when she heard "two or three" explosions and then saw black smoke.
"It was really bad," she said. "When I was running down here, I was on the phone calling for help. When I got here, the guy that was here was out in the front yard. He’s one that told me about the cats."
Smith tried but failed to revive one of three cats that reportedly live with the residents. The fate of the other two cats was not immediately clear. Lesniak said he didn't have any information about pets inside the home.
Smith said the occupant of the home told her the three cats stay upstairs.
Smith's face and hands were covered in soot, from where she heroically tried to resuscitate one of the cats, to no avail.
"I then went next door because I didn’t know if anybody was there," she said. "I was afraid it was going to spread there."
Smith banged on the door, and encountered a 13-year-old boy.
"I told him to get out, and he was crying and on his phone. I think he was worried about his cats," she said. "I found one and put it in the powder room on far side of house."
"I told him the fire department would make sure everything was safe," she said.
Smith said she did not know the family well. She said Joanne Harris walks the neighborhood a lot.
She said the community is one that looks out for each neighbor, and would certainly band together to support their neighbor.
"It's something that, I'm sure wherever they work at, I know wheneve someone has a tragedy where I work, everyone gets together," she said. "We're a close neighborhood. We watch everyone's back. We have a little town watch going on."
Lesniak said the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
PhillyFireNews.com reported that PECO had been called to the scene for an underground gas fire near the house's gas meter.
A PECO crew equipped with a backhoe arrived at the property at about 12:30 p.m. The workers were attempting to control a fire that could be seen emerging from under the ground near the side of the house.
A column of heavy smoke was visible rising from the scene from more than a mile away.
Lesniak said nine fire companies in all responded to the scene.
Units from Chalfont Fire Company, North Penn Fire Company, Fire Department of Montgomery Township, Colmar Fire Company, Hilltown Fire Company, Horsham Fire, Warrington Fire Company, Horsham Ambulance, and the Volunteer Medical Service Corps of Lansdale (VMSC) were visible at the scene.
Representatives from North Penn Goodwill were also on hand to assist the affected residents.
[Editor's note: The initial version of this article incorrectly named Montgomeryville as the location of the fire. Thanks to reader Tanya Bamford for pointing out the mistake.]