Officials: Improperly discarded smoking materials led to Allentown fire

Allentown fire officials ruled Wednesday that the blaze that gutted a stretch of rowhouses on the 400 block of North Fulton street last Thursday night was started by accident; caused by “improperly discarded smoking materials.”
The ruling came on the day that cousins Sheree Botz and Sherrina Shade returned to the block for the first time since the fire.
It was their home on 440 North Fulton where the fire ignited. As they watched investigators comb through the charred remains of their home both women became emotional.    

"How?  Why?” asked Botz, “You know, why?"

"Everything is gone,” said Shade.  “All I keep asking for is, I need my life back.  I need my life back."

The lives of nearly everyone on this block changed, when flames erupted in a first floor back room of the rented rowhome that Botz and Shade had just moved into with their three children, Shade's boyfriend and Botz' friend.

Botz says that friend, 28 years old, was with the her kids, eating pizza, when the fire ignited. He called in a panic.

"And I'm like, 'what do you mean my house is gone?' said Botz.   “He says, ‘no the house is gone, you have to hurry up and get home!’"

No one was seriously injured, but when the smoke cleared, half a dozen families had lost much of what they owned. 440 North Fulton was a total loss.

"We can't even go back in the house,” said Botz.  “We can't see if there's anything salvageable-- there's nothing left."

Almost immediately, friends and strangers reached out to offer help;  donations, a place to stay.

“All we had was the clothes on our backs,” said Shade, “so knowing that there was people out there willing to help us, it was amazing."

But just as quickly, some in the neighborhood were pointing fingers of blame.  There were rumors that the young children had been left home alone.

Untrue and unfair says Botz, who nevertheless, understands the anger and frustration of homeowners who view them as the newcomers—renters—who just ruined their lives.

"Yeah,” said botz.  “And it stinks."

The fire that wrecked this block is officially an accident.

But that does not make it any easier for neighbors who lost their houses...or for a pair of working single mothers who lost their brand new home.

Says Botz, through tears: "We finally made it. We're finally here.  We're good.  We're gonna be okay.  And to know that a week or two later that that's all gone..."


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