One woman was critically injured and a second was unaccounted for after a three-alarm fire in Orwigsburg early Saturday destroyed an apartment building and damaged the adjacent Orpheum Theater. The injured woman was rescued by a firefighter who climbed a ladder after seeing her in a second-floor window of the burning building along Market Street, authorities said.
Dozens of residents lined the street and voiced worries about how badly the fire had damaged the theater. Fire officials said it was too early to know if the fire caused structural damage that might imperil the landmark in the heart of the southern Schuylkill County borough.
Orwigsburg police said they were called to the northeast corner of Market and North Liberty streets for an unrelated complaint about 4:30 a.m. Patrolman W. Glenn Firing said he saw heavy flames inside the former Valenti's restaurant on the ground floor of the apartment building. Firing said he notified emergency dispatchers, entered the building and encountered a tenant, Arturo Reyes, who was trying to wake his neighbors. "He was already pounding on doors," Firing said.
Firing said he stayed by the front door, waiting for firefighters and helping startled tenants out of the building. "When the fire blew the front windows out, I yelled up to Reyes to get out," Firing said. "A wall between what had been a restaurant and the apartments saved my life and a lot of other lives." Firing said the apartment building housed eight tenants, including the one woman who was unaccounted for Saturday. Meanwhile, Firing said Schuylkill Haven Police Sgt. Robert Phillips arrived and saw a woman calling for help from another second-floor window.
"Sgt. Phillips scaled an extension ladder and got her out of the window and down the ladder to safety," Firing said. Jacqueline Richmond, no age available, was taken to Pottsville Hospital and then transferred to Lehigh Valley Hospital near Allentown, where she was listed in critical condition Saturday night. Officials said one firefighter was treated at an area hospital for smoke inhalation. David J. Hardinger, chief of the Orwigsburg Volunteer Fire Company, said about 100 firefighters from 12 companies, including tankers from northern Berks County, helped fight the flames, which smoldered into the afternoon Saturday. No damage estimate was available.
"It's very early in the operation," Hardinger said. "The state police fire marshal is on the scene, but no point of origin has been determined." The theater closed in the 1970s but remains a landmark for many of the residents who turned out when they heard the building was endangered by fire. The Orpheum was not only Orwigsburg's link to Hollywood, it was home to almost every local school pageant and high school play. "It was the place to be on Friday night," said Joan F. Zmuida, 73, a lifelong borough resident. "Some nights it was standing room only."
Written by Reading Eagle
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