March 12–HARRISBURG — The smell of smoke and charred wood still hung thick in the air on a frigid Sunday morning.
And on the 2500 block of Lexington Street in Harrisburg stood the gutted remains of a row home. Complete destruction inside. Debris all around.
It’s the scene of a fire that killed one little girl on Friday and left two others in critical condition.
And it’s the fire that, while responding to the scene, one firefighter was killed when his car was struck by another driver, whom Harrisburg Police say was in a stolen vehicle.
Hanging just as thick as the smell of smoke were the memories of the fire that ravaged this block and burned itself into the minds of neighbors for years to come.
“Just seeing the little girl on the roof, not knowing how to get away…” neighbor Crystal Benjamin said, stopping as she broke into tears.
And emotions hung just as heavy over at the Mt. Pleasant Station 8 near 13th and Market streets, where a black curtain was draped over the company’s sign.
The few firefighters inside were quiet, sitting in the dark. Tired from a rough day — among the worst in their line of work — they referred comments to their chief.
Harrisburg Chief Brian Enterline could not immediately be reached on Sunday for comment on the death of Lt. Dennis DeVoe, but in a statement yesterday, he said:
“Our hearts are broken and we grieve for the loss of our brother. Our resolve is strong and our will unwavering as we move forward with our service to the City of Harrisburg just as Denny would have said is a must.”
Back on Lexington Street, Benjamin said she was home when the fire broke out, but she didn’t know the house next door was in flames until she got a call from her neighbor, telling her to step outside.
When she did, she saw the row home fully-engulfed in flames, whipping around in the wind.
And her neighbors were outside yelling, “The kids are in the house,” Benjamin recalled.
Those words — and those flames — left her feeling helpless.
“What can anybody do in that situation?” she asked.
As fire crews and the police responded to the scene, she did the best that she could — she grabbed some clothes and blankets from inside her own home and shared them with her neighbors.
Fighting back the tears two days later, she clearly remembered one of the little girls jumping from the second-story roof. Another girl climbed out on the same roof and was stuck there, not knowing where to go, until firefighters rescued her.
She declined to speak on video because of how emotional the situation is for her.
A 4-year-old girl died in the fire and the other two other children were listed in critical condition at the Lehigh Valley Burn Center.
Harrisburg Police did not have an update on their conditions Sunday and did not release their names.
But one family member earlier said the police were aggressively keeping people away from the scene, including the family. Benjamin, however, sees it differently. She said the authorities were trying to give the firefighters space to do their jobs.
While the family — and the neighborhood — reel from the loss, the firefighters suffered a loss of their own.
As DeVoe was making his way to the scene, his car was T-boned at 14th and Walnut streets.
The driver, Khanyae Kendall, 19, is now facing charges that include aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI, receiving stolen property, accidents involving death or injury while not properly licensed, DUI and numerous traffic violations.
She’s in Dauphin County Prison, unable to post $200,000 bail, and is set for a preliminary hearing at 10 a.m. March 21 before Magisterial District Judge David O’Leary.
DeVoe, meanwhile, leaves behind his wife, Amy, and four children.
“Denny was a leader in our department and the fire service as a whole,” Enterline said. “His passion for the fire service made each of us strive to be better in all we do. Our department and the City of Harrisburg are better because of his service.”
There is no word yet on funeral arrangements.
GoFundMe campaigns have been set up for both the family of the fire victims and the family of DeVoe.
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