UPDATE: Barbara Drive Fire Victim Identified
Three separate fires in less than a week and within a few miles claimed two lives and injured as many as seven people. None are suspected of involving foul play.
UPDATE: [1/31/13; 2:30 p.m.] Authorities have released the identity of the man killed in last week's fire on Barbara Drive in East Norriton
According to East Norriton Fire Marshal Frank Ludwig, the death of 44-year-old Bryan O'Neill has been ruled accidental. The cause of the fire was determined to be careless smoking on O'Neill's part. Officials were able to contact O'Neill's brother to inform him of the situation.
Three separate fires that occurred within a few miles and only days, two of which were fatal, had sparked suspicion among some area residents who feared the fires might be the work of an arsonist.
Officials from both West Norriton and East Norriton fire departments have commented to Patch that none of the fires in question involve suspected arson or were of a suspicious nature.
The first fatal fire occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday, Jan. 19 in the 1400 bock of West Sterigere Street in West Norriton. Firefighters from Jefferson Fire Company, assisted by both units from the Norristown Fire Department and Norriton Fire Engine Company in East Norriton.
Ninety year-old Vera "Babe" Cavello, who resided at the address, was rescued from the burning home by firefighters that night. She and another resident were flown by medevac to a Philadelphia-area hospital where Cavello died of her injuries.
"I can say for certain that there is no foul play suspected in that fire at all," said West Norriton Fire Chief Kevin Guirate. "As far as the exact cause of it, the state police fire marshal will give a report to our township fire marshall. I have not seen or heard yet of an exact cause of the fire, but there's absolutely no indication at all that foul play's involved in that fire. There's no criminal investigation being done."
West Norriton's fatal fire was followed soon after by a fire in the 3000 block of Whitehall Road in East Norriton that injured three residents and two firefighters.
According to Norriton Fire Engine Company's Derek Thomas, East Norriton firefighters responded to the call sometime after 1 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Jan. 23, with assistance from Worcester and Jefferson fire companies, Plymouth Ambulance, and East Norriton Police and Public Woks. The extremely low temperatures caused hoses to freeze and ladders and surrounding area to be covered in ice, causing two firefighters to fall and injure themselves. The three residents were injured jumping from the second story of the home to escape the flames.
Another fire the next morning on Barbara Drive and Denise Road in East Norriton claimed another life – a man who's identity is still being withheld until the appropriate family members can be notified. That fire also sent another resident to a nearby hospital for treatment.
"With the Whitehall Road fire, we're leaning towards unattended burning candles [as a cause]," said East Norriton Fire Marshal Frank Ludwig. "The fatal fire on Barbara Drive – we're still in the middle of the investigation on that one. I believe none of them are suspected foul play."
Ludwig credited the unfortunate coincidence of the fires to the season.
"Unfortunate timing and that cold weather time of year when people will use anything to heat themselves and keep themselves warm," said Ludwig.
After the Fires
Following East Norriton's two brutal fires within 24 hours, crews from King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company and Norristown Fire Department gave Norriton Fire Engine Company a much-needed break.
On Thursday, Jan. 24, King of Prussia Chief Jim Gallagher and Norristown Chief Tom O’Donnell sent crews to help Norriton clean and store their equipment and provide service coverage for the evening to let the Norriton volunteers get some much needed rest. The crews stayed until 6 a.m. Friday morning.
Read more about the effort here.