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Six Displaced, None Injured in North Wales Fire Friday

Investigation has started for a fire reported to be an outdoor electrical fire, per residents and neighbors

Update 4:05 p.m.: North Penn Volunteer Fire Company Chief Chris Park reported that no residents or firefighters were injured at the scene today.

"We just started our investigation," said Park. "There were reports of electric popping."

Park said that one woman and two girls were inside the home, when they heard a "popping" sound. They went outside to find the house was on fire. There was heavy smoke in the front section of the home, as well as along a side wall.

Six residents of the Liebel family live at 333 Washington Avenue, including two young girls and two young boys.

"The house has been completely damaged with fire, smoke and water," said Park.

Everybody that was home at the time were safely staying at the Hawkins-Brand household next door.

Firefighters at the scene have begun to wrap up their hoses to prevent freezing, but will stay at the home for the coming "several hours" to be sure all hot spots have been extinguished. Volunteer Medical Service Corps of Lansdale inflated a heated rehab tent for firefighters or residents who needed a break from the cold in the driveway of a home across the street.

The fire took about 25 minutes, according to Park, to place under control from the department's time of arrival.

Neighbors of the home also reported hearing popping sounds, and saw the side of the home and the roof on fire.

"It was a full first-alarm fire," said Park, meaning that four fire engines and two ladder trucks were at the scene.

North Penn Vol. Fire Co. was assisted at the scene by Upper Gwynedd Fire Co., Towamencin Vol. Fire Co., Worcester Vol. Fire Dept., Volunteer Medical Service Corps of Lansdale and North Wales Borough Police.

Patch reader and neighbor Kimberly Crouthamel Smith said she was home with her own daughter at the time of the fire.

"We saw the salt truck going down our road, and we like to look out to see the salt being poured on the road," she said. "I looked over and saw thin streams of smoke, and thought 'Why would people be barbecuing?'"

She said it took a moment to sink in.

"Then it clicked," said Smith. "You don't believe what you are seeing at first."

Smith said she had fears that the cats the family owned may not make it out. She said neighbors were calling back and forth to be sure all were safe.

"The two boys will be home from school soon," said Smith. "I hope they'll be alright when they see their house on fire."

Smith said it was a "close neighborhood" and that they'd help one another.

"Whatever they need, we'll help the family," she said.

She too saw electrical line problems.

"The electric lines were zinging and popping," said Smith.

North Wales resident Wendy McClure, of West Montgomery Avenue, said that neighbors banded together after a massive rowhome fire on her street on Jan. 5, 2006 displaced five families and killed one elderly woman.

"We are a very close-knit town," McClure said. "After the fire on West Montgomery Avenue, we started the North Wales Fire Relief Fund."

The fund was started by Larry Clever and McClure, who was a councilwoman at the time. North Wales Baptist Church and Commerce Bank also aided in establishment of the fund.

McClure said the fund was supported by a beef and beer and community donations. All in all, more than $5,000 was raised for families and was directly dispersed to them, she said.

The fund is dormant now, but that could change with the community's wishes.

"It doesn't mean we can't help the family anyhow," McClure said. "We'll see what their needs are. This community comes together to help out as best as they can."

McClure said the response of the first responders was "fabulous."

She said that, as an insurance agent, she has seen a lot of claims for house fires recently, due to issues with frozen pipes and malfunctioning heaters.

"I feel bad for the Liebel family," she said. "Their house is toasted."

Update 3:07 p.m. The fire has been declared under control, according to emergency radio reports.

The Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania said that it was responding to assist an estimated six people who were affected by the fire.

Update 2:58 p.m. According to neighbor Jacqueline Grimes, the house on the 300 block of Washington Street is home to the Liebel family. They have four children. Everyone is believed to have escaped the house safely.

Grimes said the fire started at about 2:00 p.m. and that most of the structure was engulfed within about 10 minutes.

Update 2:51 p.m.: The house appears to have been completely gutted by the fire.

Units from the Fire Department of Montgomery Township, Worcester Fire Company, North Penn Fire, and the Volunteer Medical Service Corps of Lansdale are at the scene.

Update 2:40 p.m.: Reader Tracey Eckert reported on the Lansdale Patch Facebook page that a UPS driver alerted an elderly occupant of the home to the fire. 

A column of smoke is reportedly visible from at least a half-mile away.

Update 2:36 p.m.: Firefighters have been ordered to evacuate the building. Radio reports described "heavy fire throughout" the dwelling.

Update 2:24 p.m.: The @MontcoAlerts account on Twitter reports that the source of the fire is an electrical box on the outside of a two-story dwelling.

Initial report below.

Patch is monitoring emergency radio reports of a building fire near the intersection of Washington Avenue and Swartley Street in North Wales.

Radio reports indicate heavy smoke at the scene, while some callers to 9-1-1 reportedly described one side of the building as "fully engulfed" in fire.

A number of police and fire units are already at the scene.

All occupants of the building have reportedly been evacuated.

A reporter is en route to the scene.

This is a developing story.

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