Firefighters rescued two people from an outside balcony of a burning Waupelani Heights apartment building Thursday evening, throwing up a ladder as flames poured from structure.
Alpha Fire Company Chief Jeff Martin said a three-alarm blaze destroyed the 19-unit building on Waupelani Drive in State College.
Martin said all of the units were occupied, and several residents were home when the fire began just after 8 p.m. No injuries had been reported Thursday night, but not all residents were accounted for.
Emergency officials said the building’s manager was working to contact residents, but that the holiday could make that process more difficult.
Red Cross officials said 40 people were displaced in the blaze. The relief organization is working to find places for them to stay, and may need to open a shelter.
Firefighters used aerial ladder trucks to douse flames that were shooting from the roof that could be seen above the trees in front of the building. A section of the roof collapsed as the crews worked.
Thick black smoke from the blaze could be seen billowing from outside Beaver Stadium, where the Central PA 4th Fest celebrations were underway. While firefighters were on scene for the fireworks, Martin said it did not affect response time to the Waupelani Drive fire.
“As soon as the call came in, and they knew what is was, they left the fireworks (which had not started) and came right here,” Martin said at a briefing outside the building.
Martin could not say Thursday what started the blaze. He said a state police fire marshal had been called to assist in an investigation.
Walter Jackson and his wife, young daughter and niece, were home when the fire began and escaped with only the clothes on their backs.
Jackson, sitting in a lawn across the street, surrounded by dozens who had gathered to watch, described a fast moving fire.
“I smelled smoke and two seconds later the alarm went off,” Jackson said. “My wife thought it wasn’t serious, but I looked outside and smoke was coming out of the top floor window. I ran in and got them out and literally, as we were running out in under a minute, the whole thing went up. The whole roof was on fire.”
Martin said there was heavy fire coming from the roof when firefighters first arrived at the scene.
He said no firefighters were injured in the blaze. At one point, when the fire was getting out of hand, he pulled crews back. A few moments later the roof partially collapsed.
Officials said 38 to 40 firefighters were on the scene.
Crews remained at the scene late Thursday checking for hot spots that could rekindle overnight. A stretch of Waupelani Drive remained closed late Thursday.