By Kaylee Lindenmuth and Sherry Streeter
ASHLAND - At least six homes were damaged or destroyed and 29 people were displaced after a multi-alarm blaze Thursday afternoon in the borough of Ashland.
Firefighters from three counties - Schuylkill, Northumberland, and Columbia - were brought to the scene at 1113 Brock Street for a structure fire just before 3:00pm.
Arriving crews found several row homes engulfed in flames, and a third alarm was quickly struck, bringing crews from Shenandoah, Mahanoy City, Kulpmont, Atlas, Englewood, Pottsville, Trevorton, and more to the scene.
"It was nothing but a wall of fire," said Ashland fire chief Phillip Groody, speaking of when firefighters first arrived. Groody confirmed early reports that there was an explosion early on in the firefight.
"There was an explosion when the first arriving units got here, which could've been a smoke explosion, or it could've been a propane tank inside," Groody said.
Within half an hour, the engulfed buildings were reduced to rubble, and Groody noted "in the vicinity where we think the fire started, those buildings came off the ground."
Groody added that firefighters would be at the scene well into the evening cleaning up and investigating.
"It's going to be a long investigation while we put this puzzle back together," Groody added.
According to Groody, at least six homes were involved in the blaze, which firefighters were still working to fully extinguish by 5:00pm.
Embers from the fire caught another home about a block away at 1037 Brock Street, which firefighters brought under control within half an hour.
According to PP&L, 94 customers were without power in Ashland borough at 5:00pm.
The fire disrupted bus routes for North Schuylkill Elementary students returning home. The district updated parents via Facebook, noting first that students would be held at the school until Ashland streets began to reopen, then adding that buses would run to the borough at 4:15pm. Parents had the option to pick up their child in the interim.
Early in the firefight, smoke could be seen as far away as Lavelle and Gordon.
All occupants were able to evacuate safely, and all 29 residents displaced are being assisted by the American Red Cross.
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