Fire crews battle “worst fire in downtown Lebanon since 1990”

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LEBANON, Pa. -- A fire in downtown Lebanon is being called the worst there in nearly 30 years. Those flames broke out early Friday morning causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

One woman is now without a home, and a dentist isn't sure when she'll be able to take patients again.

The fire commissioner says it started in a vacant building, a property being renovated, adding that building wasn't up to code so the flames spread quickly.

"There was fire coming out of everything, everywhere," described the Lebanon City Fire Commissioner, Duane Trautman. "The places were left, voids were open, and the fire was given a better chance to run and do what it wants to do."

Heavy flames pouring out of 3 buildings - that's what firefighters battled on the 400 block of Cumberland Street in downtown Lebanon. Three buildings, 422, 424, and 428, filled with flames because of renovations in two vacant properties, 422 and 424.

Although those two properties are unoccupied, a woman living in 428 is without a home, and a dentist who operates on the lower floor there doesn't know when she'll be able to take patients again.

"What am I going to do? What's going to happen? They said everything's destroyed," said Kathleen Kopecky-Groh, a dentist at Kopecky-Groh Family Dentistry.

It's not the first time crews were called to these buildings on Cumberland Street. The Lebanon City Fire Commissioner says there was a fire at those properties about a year ago.

"A cigarette, the first time, without a doubt. This time, what could it be, you know?" said Trautman.

One man claims he's the previous property owner. He said he witnessed the cigarette fire in 2016 and is shocked to see the aftermath of the latest inferno.

"It's a lot worse this time, though, I can tell you that. How can that happen twice within about a year and a half. The same building, the same two buildings twice. You just don't believe it's going to happen," said Jack Derfler of Lebanon County.

Trautman says that fire caused about $500,000 in property damage and again fire crews in Lebanon say it's the worst they've seen since 1990. They're not sure what caused the fire and don't believe it's suspicious at this point.

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