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Investigation continues; foul play not suspected in Hotel Punxsutawney fire

December 21, 2011

Firefighters use Lindsey’s Tower 40 to battle the Dec. 10 fire at the Hotel Punxsutawney and Smuggler’s Inn. (Photo by Tom Chapin/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The cause of the fire that destroyed the Hotel Punxsutawney earlier this month is listed as undetermined, and foul play is not suspected at this time as the investigation continues.

The fire began in the kitchen area and could possibly be electrical in nature, said Cpl. Chuck Gross, Punxsutawney-based Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal.

Gross said either the electric or the fan above a stove in the kitchen also may have started the blaze that began around 3 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, destroying the landmark hotel, sports bar and restaurant in the quickly-spreading fire.

“We’ve determined that the fire began up high in the ceiling. We can include the fan in the electric, but we can’t rule out either one at this time,” Gross said.

Either the fan or the electric could have been the cause, but he and Tpr. Julie Clark, fire marshal, do not have enough to work with as of yet.

“There was fire coming out of the vent that the fan was attached to the night of the fire,” he said.

Gross said the Smuggler’s Inn had been added onto the original Hotel at some point in time.

“I’m sure the fire began in the void space between the two buildings,” he said. “I’m sure there were other void spaces (drop ceilings) due to remodeling over time. Once the fire gets up into there, it really takes off.”

Gross said even though foul play is not suspected, he can’t rule anything out at this point.

“Based on what we’ve seen, due to the high amount of damage, I can’t make an exact determination as to the cause, but it did start up high (ceiling),” he said.

Gross said the building has been released by state police, and how soon it may be razed is between the insurance company and the owners, Ken and Toie Neal, who’ve owned the Punxsy Hotel since 1973.

Gross said the fire marshals were unable to go into the hotel side due to the heavy amount of debris and the unstable back wall.

“It was dangerous to go inside with the back wall of the building still intact,” he said. “When were up top the one day, it was cold, and ice formed between the bricks. Once it began to warm up, the ice melted, and bricks were coming loose.”

The fire was initially called in by a Jefferson County EMS unit as it was returning from a call at 3 a.m. that morning.

It took firefighters most of the night to bring the huge blaze under control, and they were on-scene most of the day to douse flames from rekindling.

Meanwhile, the municipal parking lot adjacent to the Hotel remains partially reopened.

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