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Tyrone Family Escapes Two House Fires in Six Months

The Eagle Eye has been investigating the issue of fires in Tyrone for most of the school year. This story is one part in a four part series.
One+Tyrone+family+had+the+unfortunate+bad+luck+of+suffering+two+house+fires+in+the+span+of+just+six+months.+Their+home+on+Washington+Avenue+was+a+complete+loss.
Courtesy of Lindsey Burket
One Tyrone family had the unfortunate bad luck of suffering two house fires in the span of just six months. Their home on Washington Avenue was a complete loss.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 356,500 house fires in the US in 2020, resulting in 2,580 deaths, 11,500 injuries, and $8.4 billion in property damage.

While those numbers may seem high, consider that with over 142 million housing units in the US, the chance of living in a home that caught fire in 2020 was very low, about .0025%.

By that logic, the odds of being involved in two house fires in the same year is incredibly low.

I believe these fires could be prevented. If people take care of their properties or the code enforcer would have taken care of stuff when called multiple times then issues like the trash outside wouldn’t be there to catch on fire,

— Lindsey Burket

Yet one Tyrone family recently had the misfortune of being victims of not just one, but two house fires, both within the span of just six months.

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Tyrone resident Lindsey Burket, her fiance Matthew Lippart, and their three-year-old daughter escaped one house fire on Washington Avenue in February 2022 and another on Pennsylvania Avenue in July 2022.

“As a family, we are still trying to cope with losing everything and being close to death twice in a six-month span,” said Burket.

Burket and her family had lived in a rental property on Washington Avenue in Tyrone since 2020.

On the evening of February 21, 2022, a fire started in the walls of the home.

Burket was awoken by a neighbor who first noticed the smoke and fire.

“My fiance and our daughter were sleeping. I woke up when the neighbor told me the house was on fire. I then woke up my fiance and we got our daughter up and rushed out,” said Burket.

Everyone in the house escaped unharmed, but the structure suffered extensive damage and was no longer inhabitable.

Washington Avenue house after the fire was extinguished. (Courtesy of Lindsey Burket)

Many in the community, including Samaritans Promise, stepped up to help the family through donations of clothes, furniture, and money.

“The community really helped us out,” said Burket.

After the fire on Washington Avenue, the family moved to another rental property on Pennsylvania Avenue in Tyrone.

“After the fire on Washington Avenue, [our landlord] Nathan Verilla got us into the house on Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Burket, “He told us he knows it’s not the best place but by the end of the month he will have all the problems fixed and he would put us in a better place once one came around.”

But six months later, on July 18, 2022, the family suffered another devastating fire at the Pennsylvania Avenue apartment, which displaced 13 people, including Burket’s family.

“My fiance was in the living room and my daughter and I were sleeping in bed. I woke up to the fire right outside my window, two feet from my bed, and I yelled for him. He grabbed us and we rushed out with only the clothes on our backs,” said Burket.

In the second fire, Burket said that her family lost all of their belongings.

“On Washington Avenue, we lost a lot of things, mostly our daughter’s toys and our furniture, but the fire on Pennsylvania Avenue was a lot worse. We lost everything, including our vehicle because the damage was too much and we couldn’t afford to fix it. They tore the Pennsylvania Avenue house down the second the fire was out. They didn’t even let us see if there was anything we could save,” said Burket.

Burket believes that the fire on Pennsylvania Avenue could have been avoided with proper maintenance and better code enforcement.

We lost everything, including our vehicle because the damage was too much and we couldn’t afford to fix it. They tore the Pennsylvania Avenue house down the second the fire was out. They didn’t even let us see if there was anything we could save,

— Lindsey Burket

“There was a trash pile outside for at least four months [at the Pennsylvania Avenue property]. I tried to clean it up because I got tired of the smell. I was told by other residents that lived there that the trash was from the maintenance men when they cleaned out the apartment. Included in the trash was the couch that caused the whole multi-dwelling to burn to the ground along with all of my family belongings,” said Burket.

When contacted by the Eagle Eye, Verilla strongly denied Burket’s claim that the Pennsylvania Avenue property was not being maintained.

“Lindsey Burket’s comments are false and made up,” Verilla said in an email interview.

“We manage hundreds and hundreds of units across central Pennsylvania for the last decade. The only fires we have had was the two units they lived in. I don’t point fingers, but it is weird that their apartments caught on fire,” said Verilla. “I helped Burket find a place to rent after her apartment burnt down. I helped get them a small refrigerator, etc. We were super gracious and kind to them.”

According to Tyrone police, an investigation concluded that the fire on Washington Avenue was accidental, caused by an electrical malfunction. The Pennsylvania Avenue fire was started by a lit cigarette that was left on a couch on the back porch.

No charges have been filed in either case against the landlord, the residents of the property, or the person responsible for starting the fire on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Burket also believes that Tyrone Borough is not doing enough to enforce property codes.

“We called the code enforcer so many times,” said Burket, “ We told him what was not being done and how it was unsafe and his response was always that he was investigating it. The grass was so tall I couldn’t take my daughter out to play even if I wanted to. There was also a really bad ant problem because of all the trash.”

The Pennsylvania Avenue house caught on fire as a result of a cigarette left on a couch on the back porch of the residence. (Courtesy of Lindsey Burket)

The Eagle Eye reached out to Tyrone code enforcement officer Marvin Frazell, who responded to questions via email.

Frazell was asked if he thought vacant or poorly maintained properties were a fire hazard in Tyrone. He responded, via email, saying “The human factor is to be considered, however, safety is always a priority.”

Code enforcement and fire inspections have been the subject of much debate in the community, but after considering these issues for several years borough council decided in April not to pursue any additional fire inspections or regulations for the borough at this time (see related story).

With the loss of two homes and most of her belongings, Burket thinks that more fires could be prevented in Tyrone with better cooperation between homeowners, landlords, and local government.

“I believe these fires could be prevented. If people take care of their properties or the code enforcer would have taken care of stuff when called multiple times then issues, like the trash outside, wouldn’t be there to catch on fire,” said Burket.

This story was originally published on Tyrone Eagle Eye News on May 19, 2023.