March 25, 1998 in Nation/World

No Smoke Detectors In Cabin Where 11 Died

Philadelphia Inquirer
 

No evidence of smoke detectors was found in the charred remains of the mountain cabin where 11 young people died of asphyxiation before a fire engulfed them, state police said Tuesday.

And there was no law requiring a smoke detector.

The two-story pine and oak cabin was in rural Miles Township, Pa., which, like the majority of local governments in Pennsylvania, does not have a building code or smoke-detector ordinance. And unlike most states, Pennsylvania has no statewide requirement for smoke detectors and no minimum construction standards in single-family residences.

Two bills pending in the legislature would change that. But one - a statewide building code - is on the slow track, heavily scrutinized by lobbies for the home-building industry and local governments.

The other, a residential smoke-detector requirement, has sat untouched in the Senate Urban Affairs committee for more than a year. Its sponsor, Sen. Edwin Holl, R.-Montgomery, says he will push harder for the measure in the wake of Sunday’s fire.

One advocate hopes the legislature quickens its pace on both matters.

“This tragedy should remind all of us why we need a statewide building code,” said John Brenner, director of the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Fire Services Institute.

“We hear people say, ‘I’m from rural Pennsylvania. I don’t want government to tell me what to do,”’ Brenner said. “This really reminds us that those are the most vulnerable places. You don’t have a fire company down the street from you in rural Pennsylvania.”

Sunday’s fire was the second fatal cabin fire in Centre County, Pa., this year. In January, three people died from smoke inhalation in a hunting cabin fire. Investigations into the causes of both blazes are continuing.

While lawmakers pondered the need for tougher building and fire safety standards, the two central Pennsylvania communities struck by Sunday’s tragedy continued to struggle with their losses Tuesday.

Along the winding valley road to Line Mountain High School in Herndon, Pa., memorials appeared, from half-staff flags to signs in business windows.

“Dear children, may God bless you and keep you in his tender care,” one sign said.

“Now they’re in God’s cabin,” read another.

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