Fire guts New Anchor Inn; former owner saved from the flames

PUNXSUTAWNEY — A day after a vicious fire gutted the restaurant that has been in his family for generations, New Anchor Inn owner Dave Setree said he and his family are taking each day one at a time.

“I’m open to anything,” he said Monday when asked about the possibility of reopening the restaurant. “I feel that God has a plan, and He’s kind of giving me a clean slate to just wait and see what path to take in my life.”

Most of all, he’s glad that his 86-year-old mother, Rose Setree — whose parents opened the original restaurant until she and her husband, Charles, opened the New Anchor Inn in 1953 — escaped the flames uninjured.

He explained that his mother lived in a second-floor apartment above the restaurant, and nurse Carol Stevens was serving as her caretaker for the evening.

Despite suffering a stroke a few years ago, Mrs. Setree “still got around. We just couldn’t leave by herself, and we’d have someone stay at home at night.”

Dave Setree said Stevens got his mother out of the apartment “literally seconds before the flames came up. You could not see more than one step at a time because of the smoke.”

“She saved her life,” he said about Stevens’ actions.

Dave Setree said he had finished closing up the restaurant for the night around 10:45 p.m. before going to his shop down the road until 11:45 p.m.

He said at 12:01 a.m., just before retiring for the night, he heard Stevens “laying on the horn,” and saw “smoke pouring out all over the building.”

Elk Run Volunteer Fire Company Chief Bryan Smith said firefighters initially attacked the fire via a rear stairwell leading into the kitchen, which sustained heavy damage.

Firefighters also sawed and chopped away at the steel roof covering the dining area as a means of venting the intensely burning flames. As morning approached, they had to watch their footing as ice began forming on the roof.

Smith said Stevens had come to Mrs. Setree’s apartment around 11 p.m., when Mrs. Setree was asleep in her room.

Stevens began watching TV, Smith said, and then smelled smoke. When she opened the door to Mrs. Setree’s room, it was full of smoke, he said.

Smith said firefighters located some business records in the apartment and threw a tarp over them in an attempt to save them. They also saved some family portraits, although Dave Setree said the flames were so hot in other areas of the building that they melted the glass and the frames.

In addition to Elk Run, responding units included Punxsy’s Central and Lindsey departments, as well as McCalmont Township, Big Run, Reynoldsville and Sykesville. Brookville and Mahaffey were on stand-by, and the American Red Cross responded to help firefighters at the scene.

Information regarding the fire was unavailable from PSP-Punxsutawney, although Dave Setree said he understood that Monday, K-9 units had detected no accelerants and ruled out arson. He said he believed the fire would be ruled accidental or of unknown origin.

Mrs. Setree’s parents, Charles and Cora Longo, opened the restaurant in 1940, and Mrs. Setree and her husband, who is now deceased, purchased it in 1953.

The New Anchor Inn has remained in the family ever since.

Monday, Dave Setree said he was thinking clearly about the situation, but wasn’t feeling any emotion just yet.

He said that would probably change in a few days.

“For the first time in 32 years, I don’t have to close up,” Dave Setree said. “No matter how long and hard (the day) is, I go over and lock up, balance books, pay bills. It’s an odd feeling. But I don’t remember anyone telling me life was fair.”