September 22, 2023


A city woman was rescued from her burning home early Monday in a fire that killed 17 of her pets, authorities said.

Christine Kramer of 718 Ritter St. was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital near Allentown with apparent smoke inhalation and was in critical condition Monday, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Kramer’s age was unavailable.

The fire occurred about 1:30 a.m., with flames in the first-floor kitchen and dining room, and smoke throughout the three-story row home.

Darryll Johnson, who lives across the street, was parking in front of his home when he noticed smoke coming from a second-floor window of Kramer’s house.

He told someone to call 9-1-1 and tried to enter through the front door. He said he was met with smoke so heavy and black he could barely get through the doorway.

“I couldn’t get in,” Johnson said Monday morning, still coughing from the smoke he inhaled.

He yelled for Kramer until he was unable to breathe, backed out and started banging on neighbors’ doors to wake and alert them.

By then firefighters were on the scene. They sprayed water on the flames, found Kramer unconscious on the second floor and carried her out, said acting Fire Chief Gary Mogel, praising the 16 firemen who responded.

“Within 10 minutes of arriving they had her in the back of the ambulance,” Mogel said. “Everything worked like clockwork, and as a result, she’s alive.”

Fourteen cats, two large birds and a dog died inside the home, he said, but firefighters saved another six cats using the pet oxygen masks the rescue truck recently obtained, he said.

“They were bringing cats out left and right,” he said.

Officials with the Animal Rescue League of Berks County took the six surviving cats to Berks Animal Emergency & Referral Center in Shillington.

“They were then returned back to us, and they will see one of our vets,” said Beth Ireland, director of marketing and communications for the Rescue League in Cumru Township.

“They are all suffering from very, very severe smoke inhalation and one of them had burns to its head,” Ireland said. “They are not up for adoption because they are so sick.”

The fire started in the kitchen, but the cause was still under investigation, Mogel said.

Damage was estimated at $25,000 to $30,000, he said.

The house did not seem to have any working smoke detectors, he said.

A neighboring home at 720 Ritter St. sustained smoke damage, but the residents can remain in the home, he said.

No neighbors or firefighters were hurt, Mogel said.

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