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Roger Irwin burned his hand trying to remove the picture.

The Carlisle attorney was lucky that was his only injury because, just then, the whole wall caved in.

It was Friday, April 9, 1971, around 1 p.m. The sound of an explosion prompted Irwin to investigate by entering his brother’s office on the south side of the Pomfret Apartment building.

Irwin had managed to salvage some items from the desk before returning long enough to grab the picture. He saved that too, barely.

This week’s Tour Through Time focuses on a fire that burned about a third of a block near the corner of Pomfret and South Hanover streets.

By the time it was over, 13 of the 21 apartments in the building were rendered uninhabitable. There were also reports of damage to the nearby Cochran and Allen Sporting Goods Store and the Landis, MacIntosh and Black building, according to The Sentinel.

Initial reports falsely identified the origin as a furnace explosion in the basement that spread flames up the chimney wall to the attic. In a follow-up story, the newspaper said fire officials were investigating a link to a dumbwaiter shaft.

At its peak, over 200 firefighters were on the scene including volunteers from the Cumberland, Union, Good Will, Friendship and Empire fire companies. They were helped by men and equipment from Mount Holly Springs and Lower Allen Township.

The Lower Allen crew played a pivotal role in keeping the fire from spreading past the Landis building through the use of their ladder truck and a high pressure fog nozzle.

Empire volunteers rescued three women from the apartment building who were treated and released from Carlisle Hospital. Most of the displaced tenants stayed with friends and relatives in the days after the fire. The Red Cross and Salvation Army were ready to render aide.

Tour Through Time runs every Saturday in The Sentinel print edition. Reporter Joseph Cress will work with the Cumberland County Historical Society each week to look at the county through the years. Send any questions, future ideas or tips to jcress@cumberlink.com.

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Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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Education/History Reporter

History and education reporter for The Sentinel.