Fire Marshal: Reading fatal fire started in living room, caused by electrical heating appliances

Reading Fire Marshal Jeremy Searfoss has released new details Thursday on the Saturday’s fatal house fire that killed a young girl and injured a man in the early morning hours of January 21, 2023.

According to Searfoss, the Fire Department was dispatched to 630 Summit Avenue in the Millmont Section of the City around 4:07am for a structure fire reported with people trapped. Berks County 911 received multiple calls reporting a fire at the address.

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Arriving companies found advanced fire conditions that had significant fire involvement of a 1st floor summer porch and heavy smoke showing from the 2nd and 3rd floors. At 4:11am, a 2nd Alarm was transmitted bringing all on-duty City firefighters to the scene along with County mutual aid partners.

Firefighters encountered advanced fire conditions and access challenges that delayed efforts to quickly extinguish the fire. The methods to secure the structure included 6 foot fencing with concertina wire, window bars and heavy contents blocking exits. Multiple hoselines were deployed to control the fire and aggressive searches were conducted. Searfoss said crews worked tirelessly to control the fire while searching for two unaccounted occupants.

At 4:29am, the Incident Commander ordered all firefighters to evacuate the structure due to deteriorating conditions. Firefighters utilized exterior heavy water streams to extinguish areas of the building that were involved in fire. After reassessing conditions, Firefighters reentered the structure to extinguish remaining areas of fire.

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One occupant was removed from the 1st floor roof. RFD Paramedics treated and later transported three occupants on-scene. At 4:30am, a Firefighter with a knee injury was transported to Tower Health – Reading Hospital.

At 5:15am, an adult male occupant was removed from the basement. The adult male remains in critical condition at Lehigh Valley Cedar Crest with inhalation and burns injuries. The adult male has been identified as David Martin, 56 years old.

At 6:28am, a deceased juvenile female was located on the 3rd floor. The decedent was identified as Empressi Martin, 13 years old. Searfoss said the autopsy determined the cause of death as smoke inhalation.

At 7:28am, the fire was declared under control. Members continued to operate on the fire scene throughout the day.

The origin and cause investigation was conducted by the Office of Fire Marshal. Searfoss said the fire started in the 1st floor living room. He went on to say that the heavy contents added significant combustible fuel loading in the building that generated rapid fire spread to upper floors of the structure.

The cause of the fire was determined to be the improper use of electrical heating appliances igniting nearby combustible building contents. The fire has been classified as Accidental.

The house has been declared unsafe due to fire damage and will likely be a total loss. The damage estimate for building and contents is $100,000.

The Department of Fire & Rescue Services offered their sincere condolences to those affected by the tragic event.

Searfoss would like to remind everyone: Practice in home fire drills and have a dedicated meeting place for family members. Do not attempt to extinguish a fire! Get everyone out and call 911. If using heating appliances for supplementary heat, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for operation and distances from combustible materials.

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