The fire that killed 61 cats and two dogs at a 174-year-old Schnecksville building last week was caused by an electrical short-circuit, the North Whitehall Township fire marshal said Thursday.
“The cause of the fire is electrical,” Fire Marshal Don Jacobs said, noting that he and an insurance investigator found a wiring problem, but they are not done reviewing the evidence.
He also recalled how the woman who cared for the pets broke down when he told her how they died.
The fire broke out about 12:05 p.m. July 15 in a second-floor apartment at the three-story stone building on Route 309 and Game Preserve Road, killing the 63 pets, displacing seven people and closing two businesses.
The pets were kept by the building property manager, Allan Fedor, and his wife, Rayna Devore, who lived in the apartment where the blaze began.
Jacobs said the fire started in kitchen wiring while Fedor and Devore were not home.
“It was near the range, the stove, but the stove runs on 220 volts, and this was not a 220-volt line,” he said. “It was a 110-volt line. It didn’t have anything to do with the stove.”
He ruled the fire an accident. It severely burned one apartment, caused water and smoke damage to an apartment downstairs, and left smoke damage to three other apartments and the two first-floor businesses.
A firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion, but no human residents were injured. The building has been ordered closed until extensive repairs are made.
Devore was responsible for the pets in the second-floor apartment, Jacobs said, recalling her grief at their loss and her relief they did not burn to death.
“They died of smoke inhalation,” he said. “When I told her they passed peacefully, that they had slipped on before the fire got to them, her eyes welled up.
“She cried. She said something like, I didn’t want any of my babies to have any pain.”
When firefighters entered the apartment, dead pets lay in every part of every room. Jacobs said Devore has a special sympathy for abandoned cats.
“People don’t know she was an animal rescuer. She took in abandoned cats,” he said. “She would actually pay to get them spayed and neutered and give them to other families.
“But in recent years, the costs went up and she couldn’t do that [pay for spaying and neutering] and nobody would take them,” he said.
She continued to take in cats but few were finding new homes, Jacobs said.
The building owner now face fines for allegedly violating the North Whitehall Township zoning ordinance, which limits pet ownership to no more than six cats and dogs per home.
Township Manager Jeff Bartlett said more cats and dogs would be allowed if a home had a special zoning permit for commercial breeding, but there is no permit at this building.
The building is owned by Jon-Chung Kim and Duk S. Kim of Center Valley, according to Lehigh County real estate records. It dates to 1840, when the Schneck family put it up as a hotel.
First Published July 25, 2014 12:00 AM