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11 homeless after Fredericktown hotel fire
EAST BETHLEHEM TWP. - The 11 residents of the Riverside Inn on Front Street in Fredericktown escaped a Monday morning fire with their lives and little else.
"Everything we had was in that one room," said Ron Terasaz, pointing to a smoke-blackened window on the second floor.
Terasaz, who moved to Fredericktown two years ago from Oklahoma, is an unemployed truck driver. His Oklahoma-issued commercial driver's license was lost in the fire. He shared the apartment with his girlfriend, Jo Ann Angelo, and their cat. The cat was the only possession they took from the burning building.
Angelo said she was sleeping when she became aware of the fire.
"I smelled it. I opened the door and it was all black," Angelo said.
Angelo and Terasaz ran from the building wearing only what they had been sleeping in, shorts and a T-shirt for Angelo and boxer shorts for Terasaz.
Kristen Lewis of Fredericktown is a friend of Angelo's and rushed to the scene when she saw the flames more than a block away.
"She can come eat and shower at my house. I'm going to help her as best I can. I'm so heartbroken over this. The only thing you can do is to have strength and keep your faith in God," Lewis said.
Lewis said she was going to contact her church, Calvary Chapel of Fredericktown, for prayer and other assistance that could be provided.
Cheapies Outlet Store, located directly across the street from the Riverside Inn, provided T-shirts, tennis shoes and socks for the couple and several other fire victims.
"There were a few of them that couldn't get their money or anything," said Mariann Mason of Low Hill, who owns the store along with her husband Dave.
Mason said her husband noticed the smoke coming from the building as soon as they arrived at the store around 8:40 a.m.
"I'm usually not here until 9:15, but I had to be dropped off today. My husband saw the smoke and asked if that was normal, and I said it wasn't," Mason said. "(Riverside Inn owner) Duane (Devecka) was upstairs trying to put the fire out."
Devecka said it is the second fire in the 102-year-old building since he bought it in 1980.
"It used to be a three-story building. We had a fire in 1981 and I took the third story off and made it a two-story hotel. The place was totally rewired from bottom to top in 1982-83," Devecka said.
Devecka said he doesn't know if he will rebuild this time.
"I did it once. I don't know if I want to do it again," Devecka said.
The 1981 fire was attributed to a faulty chimney on a wood burner in the basement that spread to the third floor through a laundry chute, Devecka said. The state police fire marshal was called in to determine the cause of Monday's fire.
"I was just getting ready to leave the kitchen when I hard glass breaking on the fire escape. I thought someone had thrown a bottle down the fire escape," Devecka said.
Devecka went upstairs to investigate the situation and noticed smoke in the hallway.
"I went into the apartment with a fire extinguisher. The smoke detector didn't go off until I went into the room, the flames were that hot," Devecka said.
The noise that had alerted him to the fire was the window in the rear apartment breaking outward from the heat, Devecka said.
Assistant East Bethlehem Fire Chief Jim Starkey said fire damage to the second floor of the building was extensive, while the first floor bar and restaurant had smoke and water damage.
"I was down the road less than a mile when our pagers went off and when I came up, the flames were already shooting out the window," Starkey said. "We don't know yet what started it until it's investigated."
The East Bethlehem Volunteer Fire Department was assisted at the scene by additional firefighters from Bentleyville, Richeyville, Denbo-Vesta Six, Clarksville and Jefferson, with Brownsville Ambulance Service Inc. on standby at the scene.
It's hard to say exactly when the fire began. According to Washington County 9-1-1 dispatch, the call was received at 8:54 a.m. One resident of the building, Nick Arnone, said he received a call from the building manager to evacuate the building around 8:15 a.m.
"I was sleeping and they woke me up. Thank God everyone got out with life and limb. Nobody got hurt," Arnone said.
Arnone, who is a corrections officer at SCI Fayette, said the door to his apartment was already getting warm from the fire. He grabbed clothing and put a wet T-shirt over his mouth and nose to get through the smoke.
"When I got to the door, the smoke was already down to your waist from the ceiling," Arnone said.
Arnone is originally from Johnstown, returning there each week on his day off. He said he's been through two floods, so he took losing his possessions in the fire in stride.
"You can't wallow in it. What's gone is gone. You've got to keep moving forward," Arnone said.
St. Michael's Church in Fredericktown, part of St. Oliver Plunket Parish, is coordinating relief efforts for the 11 displaced residents. The Red Cross said it was providing eight adults displaced by the fire with food, clothing and shelter.