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2 people killed as fire races through home near Newmanstown

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 06:21:23 AM CST
Updated On: Sep 17 2013 05:19:49 PM CDT

Investigators are working to find the cause of a fire that killed two people inside their home near Newmanstown overnight.

MILLCREEK TWP., Pa. -

A fast-moving fire killed a well-known Lebanon County couple early Tuesday morning. The victims' hometown fire chief said their deaths should be a sobering lesson to everyone.

"It was just heartbreaking watching them bring them out," said Heather Keppley, a lifelong neighbor. "That's what killed us."

If you ever wanted to see two people in love, look no further than Phil and June Long.  In tiny Newmanstown, just outside Berks Co., everyone knew them.

"I've known him at least 25 years," said neighbor Steve Hickernell.

The Longs, both in their 60s, were trapped after a fire broke out just before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. It started in a first floor living room, according to Newsmanstown fire Chief Scott Wolfe.

"Seems like they were both trying to get out," he said.

Keppley said the flames grew rapidly.

"I saw a large orange glow," she said.  "I said, 'Dad, they're in the house.  They're not out."

Neighbors desperately tried to save the couple.

"We ran over to the side here, tried breaking out the window to try to get in the door, but the screen door was locked," said neighbor Brandon Scholtes.

Phil Long collapsed just feet away from the door; his wife tried to escape out a bedroom window.

"It's heartbreaking, really," said Scholtes.  "Knowing that, I'm speechless."

Friends said June Long's heart was as big as her smile.

"She really liked her animals -- her cats," said Long's cousin, Jim Weitzel.

Keppley added:  "She named them all and she would tell us everything about them."

The fire chief's dad worked with Phil for years, making cabinets at Kountry Kraft Kitchens just one mile up the road.  He said the couple's cluttered home made it tough to get to them.

"There is stuff all over the place," said Wolfe. "You can see by the outside what it looks like.  You can imagine what the inside looks like."

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Even worse, Wolfe said the home's only smoke detector was disconnected with the batteries removed.

"It sometimes gets annoying to people and they do the stupidest thing and just disconnect everything thinking nothing's going to happen, and a case like this -- this is what can happen," said Wolfe.

According to the chief, this is the first deadly fire here in at least nine years.  The state fire marshal ruled it an accident, but exactly how it started is still unclear. 

State police said the home suffered $50,000 in damage, mainly to the first floor.