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4 killed in Emmaus apartment fire

By 69 News, follow: @69news, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 17 2013 11:18:10 AM CDT
Updated On: Mar 18 2013 12:15:53 PM CDT

Emmaus fire claims 4 lives

EMMAUS, Pa. -

A fire at an apartment building in Lehigh County has left four people dead, police said.

Smoke and flames could be seen for miles after the fire broke out just before noon Sunday at 36-38 S. 5th St. in Emmaus. The flames were so intense, firefighters were pulled out of the duplex for several hours.

"I made the decision, with the other chief officers, to pull everybody out -- possible collapse," said Dep. Chief Justin DeLong, Emmaus Fire Dept.

Witnesses and residents described hearing a small explosion as the home's windows blew out.

"There was nothing, and then it went from that to -- you heard the glass blow out and flames blaring out of the windows," said neighbor Barry Skriletz.  "Smoke everywhere."

Investigators found four bodies inside the building, said Sgt. Todd Garloff, Easton Police Dept. Names and ages of the victims weren't immediately released.

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It's believed the duplex contained five or six apartment units.  Distraught residents are now getting help from the Red Cross.  Brooke Woomer escaped just seconds before her apartment burned.

"The whole thing engulfed within minutes," she said.  "It was just so surreal, and they weren't able to get a woman out because of how extreme the heat was."

"There was two other guys that went in with me," said Mike Sweeney.  "We tried to go up the steps, but it was just engulfed in flames.  We couldn't get up there."

DeLong said nothing in the apartments is salvageable.

"Every time I think about doing anything, I just know that everything that belongs to me is gone now," said resident Jaschell Walbert, who was not home when the fire broke out.

Walbert's roommate made it out just in time.

"I'm just thankful she got out," said Lilly Bortree, her mother.  "You can replace things; you can't replace lives."

So far, authorities have not identified those who died.

The state fire marshal was on the scene, helping to look for a cause.  DeLong said he does not believe the fire was suspicious.

Neighbors said the building had been a funeral home until the 1960s or 1970s when it was converted into apartments.

One of the displaced residents, Bobby Taylor, has been a cook at the Emmaus McDonald's for eight years. He has a disability, and it's believed his live-in girlfriend had one also--she perished in the fire.

The McDonald's at 1101 Chestnut St. is collecting donations for Billy--who not only lost his girlfriend, but everything he owned.

Lehigh County property records indicated the home is owned by Michael and Loretta Boyko of Macungie.  69 News was unable to reach them Sunday afternoon.

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The Lehigh County coroner's office, Emmaus Police Department and Pa. State Police fire marshal are continuing the investigation.

The coroner's office said Monday that due to the condition of the bodies, positive identification will be made through dental records, if available, or DNA testing.

The names of the victims will be released after positive identification has been made, and families have been notified, the coroner said.