BERKS COUNTY

Father Dies While Trying to Save Family From House Fire

The fire marshal says there was a delay in calling 911 as people in the Reading, Pennsylvania, home tried to extinguish the flames themselves

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A Pennsylvania father who was trying to get his family to safety was one of two people who died after flames tore through a Berks County row home Wednesday night.

The house along Schuylkill Avenue on the northwest side of Reading, Pennsylvania, was filled with about 11 people from a family – including teenagers – when flames broke out around 9:30 p.m., Reading Fire Marshal Jeremy Searfoss said.

Neighbors said they saw flames shooting out the front door and windows of the home as some people ran back in to try and help. Neighbor DeSean Washington said you could feel the heat four homes down.

Some of the people inside the home apparently tried to extinguish the fire before calling 911, Searfoss said.

"Which would explain the significant amount of fire that we found when we arrived here," Searfoss said.

Family members told NBC10 38-year-old John Vannatter was trying to get his children and other relatives out of the home.

Two girls escaped the flames through upstairs windows and crawled onto neighboring homes' awnings seeking help and warning residents, neighbors said.

Firefighters from around Reading rushed to the scene as the fire expanded to two alarms. They battled back the flames to make a grisly discovery – two bodies were found upstairs, firefighters said.

Loved ones identified the victims as Vannatter and a family friend.

Vannatter's family only moved in within the past few months.

Five firefighters were injured – mostly due to smoke inhalation and exhaustion. They were checked out at the hospital.

The fire also spread to neighboring homes. The full extent of damage wasn't clear.

"My daughter was going to get me, she woke me up because she said she could smell something burning. She's only six," Jashir Salame told NBC10.

Salame and her two children escaped through a backdoor.

"When we were going to run out the front door the porch fell and flames," she said.

The cause of the fire and how the people died remained under investigation Thursday.

Contact Us