VERNON - Bill Kotanichek said he was frantic when he heard an explosion next door and realized his neighbors could be inside.
"I heard this loud kaboom and then saw flames and smoke coming out of their house," he said Saturday evening. "I got really nervous they could be in there. But then I realized one of their vehicles was gone so I thought they probably weren't there. It was a relief for a second."
Kotanichek's concerns quickly turned to the animals that could be inside Harry and Mary Johnston's house at the corner of Orangeville Kinsman Road and Rutledge Transfer Road N.E.
Firefighters work to put out remaining hot spots at a house at Orangeville Kinsman Road and Rutledge Transfer Road N.E. in Vernon that caught fire following an explosion early Saturday evening.
Multiple fire departments responded to the fire around 5:30 p.m. When emergency crews arrived, they discovered the northwest corner of the house had been blown out and that the house was on fire. A wood pile behind the structure had also caught fire.
Firefighters rescued three dogs and one wolf that were inside the home, and had to resuscitate a 2-year-old Rottweiler, Burghill Vernon Fire Department Chief George Snyder said.
Jaunita Hardway, Mary Johnston's mother, waited along the roadside and watched as fire crews continued working to put out hot spots at her daughter's home. Hardway said her daughter and son-in-law were at a birthday party in Mercer, Pa., when the fire hit. Family members were unable to reach them at first.
Still, firefighters were initially concerned the house could be occupied, so they completed several sweeps of the structure looking for people and additional animals, Snyder said.
"But because neighbors said one of the cars was gone, we were hopeful no one was in the house," he said.
The couple returned home around 8:30 p.m. as fire crews were preparing to leave.
Snyder said a cause had not been determined. Neighbors said propane tanks were on the property. Snyder said he could not confirm that.
Neighbor Theresa Helberg said she heard a popping sound and saw smoke.
Family friend Alfred Clarke said when he arrived, he saw the smoke and also immediately was concerned for the family's pets.
"This is a terrible thing to come home to," he said. "You can't help but feel so bad. I'm just glad all of the animals are OK. They love their animals. If something happened to their animals, that would break their hearts. This is bad enough."
Snyder said firefighters made initial entry into the garage area and we were able to extinguish the fire in there, but the most difficult part of containing the fire was getting to the second floor and some of the attic space because of the false ceilings in the house.
Damage estimate could not be determined, Snyder said. It appeared that much of the inside of the house had been severely damaged and gutted in parts.
The chief says water was not a challenge, thanks to a well-worked shuttle operation. However, emergency crews were also called to respond to a single-vehicle crash nearby that kept them busy until the accident scene was cleared.
"We actually received the call about the house first, but then right away we got the call on the crash," Snyder said. "So it was hard having to respond to both at the same time. It made it difficult at first. That was a challenge. But we were able to clear the crash and get the rest of the crews to the fire."
Snyder said one person suffered minor injures in the crash but refused treatment.