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Fire leaves three dead, at least three missing at nursing home

May 14, 1997

HARVEYS LAKE, Pa. (AP) _ A fire engulfed a nursing home, killing three people and leaving at least three others missing and believed dead, authorities said today.

Firefighters worked through the early morning hours to put out the blaze at Country Manor Personal Care, a two-story home for 21 residents ranging in age from the mid-40s to late 90s, said Harveys Lake Fire Chief Frank Lutinski. About 14 residents were injured, he said.

Emergency workers returned this morning to scour the gutted hulk for bodies and to search for the cause of the worst fire this town of 2,700 has seen in 40 years.

A neighbor, Beverly Connolly, said contractors had been working on the wood-frame home for two weeks but she did not know if they had used flammable material.

``Nothing like this has ever happened around her before,″ said Sue Smorra, another resident of the town. ``I’m terribly shocked. ... This will live on forever. I know they won’t rebuild that nursing facility. No one would go there.″

With help from the home’s staff, about 12 residents escaped the burning building shortly after the fire started around 9 p.m. Tuesday. Firefighters pulled several other people out of windows, Lutinski said, but the flames and heat stymied the rescue effort.

Three or four others were missing this morning, and Lutinski said their bodies are thought to be inside the house.

Some Country Manor residents were bedridden, but most took care of themselves with some help from medical staff, Lutinski said. The home is categorized as a ``personal care″ home, which serves people not badly disabled enough to need a full-service nursing home.

Neighbors described a ``poof″ sound and walked outside to see flames engulfing the home. Some 200 rescue workers from a dozen fire and ambulance crews turned the picturesque community, which is 12 miles northwest of Wilkes-Barre, into a triage base.

Amid the chaotic scene, workers at the home stood weeping as rescuers rolled unconscious residents to waiting ambulances.

Onlookers applauded as ambulance crews revived several of the injured residents using CPR. Several people received treatment for smoke inhalation on the scene, and at least 12 residents were taken to hospitals.

The bodies of the three victims were taken to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, spokesman Jim Roberts said.

Mrs. Connolly said the home’s residents were known in the town.

``Some of them were there for many, many, many years,″ she said.

According to county officials, the home was sold this month to W.P. Equities Inc. of Kingston for $170,000. A local couple, Homer and Becky Baker, owned the home for many years before the sale, Mrs. Connolly said.

``It was an asset to the community. It was a nice operation,″ she said. ``The home had been a kind of a landmark.″

Power and phone service was interrupted for many Harveys Lake residents, and authorities had set up a makeshift information facility at Sandy Bottom Beach for relatives seeking information about Country Manor residents.

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