A Schuylkill County man died in a fire that state police said was sparked by a wood stove inside his home overnight.
Hours after Kenneth Gernert sat down to dinner with his family, heavy flames shot from the roof of his two-story home at 34 Schuylkill Rd. in East Brunswick Township.
"It was just totally engulfed in flames. The chimney was all an inferno," said John Bieniek, who first spotted the fire and called 911.
As smoke poured out the windows, Gernert's son-in-law and neighbors rushed to save him.
"We tried to get in the front door. I crawled in so far, but I had to turn around and come back out. I just couldn't do it anymore. It was very dark and very hot," said Louis Melendez, who lives in the home right behind his father-in-law.
Firefighters from across the county battled the smoke and high heat for hours.
Gernert, 76, did not make it out alive.
"You see this on TV. It's a shame this happens, and then it happens to you," said Melendez.
Gernert suffered two strokes and could not move very well. His wife passed away a few years ago, said Melendez.
The family ate Thanksgiving dinner together, and when Melendez last checked in on him at 11 p.m. Thursday, he was alseep in the front bedroom with his dog Molly, which also died in the fire.
Investigators determined the fire started in the sun room in the back of the house and was ignited by a wood stove.
"It's a shame. It could happen to anybody's family," said Christa Haas, who watched the fire from her house across the street.
When the sun came up Friday, Melendez got his first look at the damage. He walked inside and looked into the room where his father-in-law took his last breath. Nothing but ash and rubble blanketed the floor.
"It's a mess. It's all a mess. It's total devastation. It's going to have to be torn down," said Melendez.
Damage was estimated at $65,000, and the fire was ruled an accident.