Cambria County officials give update on recent deadly fires, discuss safety

Local News

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (WTAJ) — The Cambria County coroner provided details Tuesday morning about two deadly fires in Johnstown that claimed the lives of three people.

In a press conference, Coroner Jeff Lees along with Johnstown Fire Chief Robert Statler shared DNA test results that helped identify a child and a teenager who were both found dead in a house fire along Highland Avenue on Wednesday, Sept. 29.

Lees stated that Zyver Gaines, 8, and Nakiya Success, 15 both succumbed to toxic smoke and gas inhalation. Gaines was reportedly found on the home’s second floor that had partially collapsed. He was pronounced dead at 3:50 a.m.

Emergency crews later found Success on the first floor after she was initially missing due to the roof and second floor of the home collapsing. Lees said she sustained fourth-degree burns over 100% of body. Both deaths were ruled accidental.

“Very difficult scene for our first responders to work,” Lees said. “There’s nothing worse in life than to lose a loved one. When we’re talking about children, it raises the emotional level that the first responders have to go through.”

Lees then provided details regarding a woman who was found dead in a fire that occurred at the Connor Towers along Vine Street on Sunday, Oct. 10. A 73-year-old woman, identified as Joanne Peoples, was found on the 5th floor of the 13-story apartment complex.

Firefighters were called before 7:30 p.m. for a reported smell of smoke at the building. After arriving on scene, they were directed to the 5th floor where they discovered Peoples on her couch in her apartment. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The fire has been ruled accidental.

“This is our fifth fatal fire for the year,” Lees said. “It’s the highest that we have seen here in Cambria County in 16 years. All five of these fires have been in the City of Johnstown.”

Fire Chief Statler highlighted the alarming increase of accidental fires in the city and stated that many older residences in the city may have faulty or outdated wiring or furnaces that could become a fire hazard. Statler added that smoke created by fires can be toxic depending on what is burning.

“The materials that are burning now compared to 20 or 30 years ago are synthetics and stuff that burn a lot faster and a lot hotter,” Statler said. “So that’s what is actually causing the deaths in a lot of these patients. The smoke gets them before they are able to get out of the house and before we’re actually able to get on scene.”

Both Lees and Statler stressed the importance of having a working smoke detector and a proper fire escape plan.

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