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Cigarette butt sparked fire that ignited propane tank in Catasauqua house fire

By Peter Hall, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 27--A cigarette butt started a smoldering fire that spread to a propane tank on a gas grill and damaged several homes in Catasauqua on Saturday, the borough's fire marshal said.

Firefighters were called to the fire at 725 Crane St. at 10:58 a.m. Moments later, a large plume of smoke was visible above the borough.

The rear of the twin home sustained heavy damage and the adjoining house at 723 Crane also was damaged. The fire burned so intensely it melted siding from a home on the opposite side of Chestnut Street, which intersects with Crane.

No one was injured in the blaze, which displaced eight people, said Joe Carl, the borough's emergency management coordinator.

Catasauqua police officer Ray Anthony, who is the borough's fire marshal, said the fire spread from an outdoor ashtray used by members of the family that lived at 725 Crane to a porch at the rear that housed a propane grill.

The fire caused a pressure relief valve on the grill's propane tank to activate, causing a loud pop or boom that many in the neighborhood believed was the tank exploding. In fact, Anthony said, the propane tank was found intact at the scene, although the gas released from the tank contributed to the intensity of the fire.

"This was something that was smoldering for some time before it manifested itself," Anthony said.

Danielle Coffin, who lives at 725 Crane with her husband, Tim, and their four children ranging in age from 1 to 18, said the whole family was at Burger King when the fire broke out, except for her 16-year-old son, who managed to get out unharmed.

The porch went up first, then the house, said Mallory Andrayko, whose back yard on Fourth Street abuts the back yards on Crane Street. Andrayko was in her kitchen when she heard a loud boom, then a hissing noise, "like someone was spraying something," she said. She called 911.

"We heard two explosions, like two large pops," said Donna Bennage, who also lives on Fourth Street.

After hearing the noise, Bennage looked out her back window to see flames shooting straight up from the Crane Street yard and smoke billowing.

Carl said one person was evaluated on the scene by medical personnel. He said that in addition to the six people displaced at 725 Crane, two were displaced from the home next door.

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Coffin said she and her husband rent 725 Crane and did not have renters' insurance. Lehigh County property records list the owner as Bulldog Property Network of Schnecksville. The American Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley is providing the Coffins with food, lodging and clothing.

Anthony said the home at 725 Crane is likely a total loss, but the damage to the adjoining home can likely be repaired.

The family residing at 723 Crane received food and clothing assistance from the Red Cross but is staying with relatives nearby, Carl said.

Firefighters from Catasauqua, North Catasauqua, Whitehall Township, Lehigh Township, South Whitehall Township, East Allen Township, Hanover Township in Lehigh and Northampton counties, and Nancy Run in Bethlehem Township responded. Northampton and East Allen EMS were also at the scene.

-- Peter Hall

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(c)2014 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

Visit The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) at www.mcall.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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