Elderly man killed in house fire

KLINGERSTOWN, SCHUYLKILL COUNTY (WOLF) -- A house fire has claimed the life of another elderly person, this time in Schuylkill County.

In our area, he becomes the third senior killed in a fire in just one week.

We have more on the victim who neighbors nicknamed "Santa Claus."

A relative says Ronald Reed, 76, inherited this house after his father died 13 years ago.

A second cousin, Warren Weaver, said he would help Reed with his pellet stove because Reed lived alone and had trouble getting around.

Weaver says he just brought him groceries yesterday morning, and talked to him on the phone later.

"He got off the phone with me around 6, 6:30 that night and he said, 'Warren, I'm going to bed, I'm not feeling good, I'm tired,' and I said 'I'll see you tomorrow,'" says Weaver.

The fire preempted those plans. It destroyed the house that Weaver says Reed's father had ordered from a Sears catalog kit in 1939 and built himself.

Weaver has his suspicions about the cause.

"He wanted to quit smoking and just, I think it had to do with the oxygen tanks. The oxygen tank is down there," says Weaver.

Today, a neighbor's daughter alerted the fire department about that broken oxygen tank across the street from the fire.

The fire happened around 8 p.m. yesterday, leaving neighbors worried about the man they knew as "Santa Claus" because of his beard.

"His truck was down there and when his truck is there, nine out of 10, he's there," says neighbor Dean Schreck.

"It was kind of an eerie feeling, knowing somebody's in a burning house and there's nothing you can do," says neighbor Jason Moore.

Firefighters were back at the house this afternoon to check on a re-kindle and knock down any hot spots, as neighbors reflected on what they'd seen last evening.

"My daughter was really upset when I looked out the window and seen that," says Moore.

"He was a very nice guy. He went over to the café and talked to everybody," says neighbor Samantha Rebuck.

Witnesses say they heard explosions, some of which may be the propane tanks.

"There was no way I could get in or anybody else could get in. I mean, it was gone. I'm a firefighter for quite a while and I've never seen anything go up like that," says Schreck.

"He was a very very nice man and the whole town's gonna miss him. He contributed a lot to the town with his kind heart," says neighbor's daughter Terri Bowman.

"I'm gonna really deeply miss him. He was always a good figure for our community," says Weaver.

Police say the fire started in the living room on the first floor, and estimate at least $75,000 in damage. They are investigating the cause.

Meantime, Richard Casale, 85, died a few days after a Sunday fire at The Hideout development in Wayne County, and Kathryn Potts, 72, died in a house fire early Thursday in Dalton, Lackawanna County.

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