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Arson Victims Just Grateful to be Alive

by on May 20, 2014 6:15 AM

Police have yet to make an arrest after a pair of back-to-back arson incidents late Sunday night.

But arrests can't come quickly enough for the people whose homes were targeted.

The two fires were reported within minutes of each other -- at homes that are only a few blocks apart. Investigators believe the fires are connected.

Somebody set a large wooden shed on fire directly behind the Bierly family's house on Windsor Court. It happened just after 11 p.m.

Stan and Robin Bierly were inside -- their two kids, both in elementary school, were asleep.

Even though flames were shooting out of their shed the Bierly's had no idea anything was wrong.

A next-door neighbor heard something popping, saw the flames ran over and rang the doorbell.

"By the time we came out to look at it, it was pretty much fully engulfed in flames, " says Stan Bierly.

Fortunately, firefighters from Alpha Fire Department also came running. "The fire department was here pretty quickly," Bierly says. "I think within five to eight minutes. It seemed like a long time."

It was too late to do anything about the shed. It was a total loss. But firefighters knocked down flames that were racing up the side of a nearby tree.

"When the fire company showed up this tree was just starting to burn," he says. "If that tree would have gone up it would have thrown sparks on houses and it could have been a lot worse. We were very lucky.

"It was very hot. ... The flames never made it over this way [to the house] but you can see that it started to sear and melt a little bit of the plastic on the vinyl [siding].

Everything in the shed was destroyed -- bicycles, tools, a lawnmower, toys and patio furniture.

Bierly knows this could easily have been a tragic tale. "The big blessing out of this whole thing -- of course you didn't want it to happen -- but we were lucky that it was very contained and didn't get worse. We're just very thankful that it didn't move over and get the house."

Insurance will cover the damage but that doesn't bring peace of mind. "I hope they catch the guy who did it," Bierly says.

Investigators think the arsonist may have gotten access to the shed by walking down a bicycle path that runs behind the Bierly's home.

A few blocks away, on Bayberry Drive, Laurie Eckenroth and her husband were already asleep, never dreaming an arsonist would target their home.

The same bicycle path that runs behind the Bierly's house passes close by the Eckenroth's place. It could be the link between the two fires that investigators believe were set by the same person.

Less than ten minutes after the shed fire, someone squirted an accelerant on the Eckenroth's front porch and lit a match. Flames rolled across a wooden deck chair and up the wall.

Police confirm that a neighbor's surveillance camera captured some fuzzy images. The video has not been made public. But Laurie Eckenroth told what she saw on the video.

"Somebody, an individual of adult size, -- all you could get was a shadow but it did not look like a kid – walked up the driveway, came up on the porch ... the fire was started and the person was walking down the driveway."

"We were sound asleep and it would have taken a long time before the smoke alarms would have gone off. "

Fortunately, a carload of good Samaritans came along. Three young women jumped out. "They were relentless at getting our attention to wake up," she says. "There was this pounding and ringing and ringing [the doorbell] and pounding. They saved our lives."

Laurie Eckenroth opened her front door, realized what was happening and grabbed a fire extinguisher. She doused the flames before any serious damage was done. She knows it could have been much worse. "We would have lost our lives probably or at least lost this home."

According to Eckenroth,"The police found gloves in the park [Monday] morning, across the street. Heavy, men's black, big, insulated fire gloves."

Eckenroth believes the arsonist was close by when those women came to the rescue. "The guy was in the park," she says. "He was watching. He had to have been watching. ... And the fact that the gloves were there – I think he took the gloves off – and was going to watch. And the girls pulled in and he dropped them or left them or whatever he did. I think he was standing there to watch."

In all the excitement the Eckenroth's never got the names of the three young woman they credit with saving their lives. The couple hopes to have an opportunity to show their appreciation. "I am very grateful," says Laurie Eckenroth. "I wish I knew who they were."

Police are warning residents to be alert and to report anything suspicious. If you have any information about the fires you should contact the State College Police Department at (814) 234-7150.

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Steve Bauer was the Managing Editor of Steve and his wife Trina are longtime area residents. They reside in State College along with a wacky Golden Retriever named Izzy.
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