The Daily Item
DANVILLE — The cause of the fire that destroyed a popular area dance studio early Monday morning will remain undetermined.
Danville Fire Chief John Buckenberger said he and a state police fire marshal agreed that the three-story brick structure, home to Karen Gronsky School of Dance, 160 Center St., was too unsafe to enter to try to find the fire’s cause. The fire marshal, Trooper Nathan Birth of the Montoursville state police barracks, could not be reached for comment.
Buckenberger said the building is a total loss and will have to be taken down. Most of what remained after firefighters doused the blaze was the white brick shell, the insides gutted and charred.
Deanna Force, Danville Fire Department public information officer, said there was not yet a dollar estimate of the loss.
The alarm was called in at 3 a.m. after a passerby spotted flames and alerted neighbors. The call drew a response from fire units from Danville, Mahoning Township and Valley Township in Montour County, Southside Fire Company in Riverside, Northumberland County, and Bloomsburg and Millville in Columbia County, according to a Montour County 911 dispatcher.
No one was injured.
Neighbors David and Susan Simpson, whose two-story home is attached to the dance studio building, feel fortunate that a passerby woke them up.
“There was a guy pounding on our door,” said Susan Simpson, 70. “He and his friends were going from Geisinger. I don’t even know who he was. Thank goodness. Our smoke alarms hadn’t gone off yet. He saved our lives.”
She said the home is connected to the dance studio building, which formerly was McVey Furniture store. The Simpson house was a showroom for the furniture displays. A window between the structures was boarded up, not bricked, after the business closed, so fire burned through and destroyed their kitchen. They also had a couple of broken windows and smoke and water damage, she said.
“We’re still missing our cat Peanut,” Susan Simpson said.
The Simpsons believe the cat is still hiding in the house somewhere.
David Simpson, 70, a retired Bloomsburg University professor who taught medical imaging in the physics department, said that when he and his wife were alerted to the fire, they couldn’t smell smoke. His wife went out the front and he went out the back to see if they could see where the fire was. He saw flames shooting out of the second floor near the rear of the studio building and the wooden fire escape. He said a firefighter tried to go up the fire escape to fight the blaze but had to turn back because the fire was too intense.
Neighbors escaped safely
Buckenberger said neighbors on the other side, in a four-unit apartment building close to the Gronsky building, all got out safely. He wasn’t sure how many of the apartments were occupied.
The chief said that building sustained minor smoke damage and residents can return to their homes.
That’s not the case with the Simpsons, whose kitchen was destroyed and house has no power.
Buckenberger said the real concern is the danger of the dance studio building collapsing onto the Simpson home.
He said the apartment building at Center and Pine streets, on the east side of the dance studio, stands within feet of the studio building.
“That is so close, the bricks are going to fall straight down,” the fire chief said.
The 100 block of Center Street, between Pine and Ferry, will remain closed until the building is razed, Buckenberger said.
The fire chief said that even though the cause is undetermined, it appears the fire started on the second floor, where Gronsky’s husband, David, had a gym. Karen Gronsky had a dance studio on the third floor.
“It looked to us like it started on the second floor to the rear, but we’re not sure, without getting in there and looking at all the evidence that’s in there,” Buckenberger said. “A lot of the flooring was gone. The structure was unsafe.”
He said firefighters were pouring 4 tons of water per minute into the blazing building.
That’s why fire officials told the Simpsons they would have to leave. David Simpson said the couple’s insurance is paying for them to stay at the Hampton Inn for now.
The fire destroyed Karen Gronsky’s studio, leaving her students in limbo, for now, but the tragedy brought out her supporters in droves and a GoFundMe page raised more than $1,300 from 25 donors just 14 hours after the fire started. The page set a goal of $10,000.
The GoFundMe page organizer, Alex Witcoskie, listing a town of Greenwood, wrote on the page:
“Our community took a huge, devastating hit this early morning of May 24, 2021, when Karen Gronsky’s School of Dance studio caught fire. Props, lighting, clothing, and memorabilia has been lost and/or damaged, as well as the house of the studio that is no longer structurally sound. This individual has given her life to inspire others by sharing her love of dancing.
“At the recital just 2 days ago, Karen Gronsky opened the show about how she’s received so much love and support through the COVID-19 pandemic to be able to continue providing for our children. Let’s stand beside her now and show her, we’re unstoppable as not only a community, but a family.”
The recital was held on May 22 at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds.
‘Keep On Dancing’
Early Monday afternoon, three moms of Gronsky dance students, Kristy Renn and Lacey Welsh, of Coal Township, and Jennifer Lindsley, of Bloomsburg, placed a wreath of flowers attached to a stand and a balloon in front of the yellow police tape in front of the burned-out building. The wreath bore a sash that read, “Keep On Dancing.” The balloon read, “I love you.”
The women said they read about the fire on social media.
“We told our daughters before school this morning,” Renn said. “Their school has a few dancers from the studio.”
“We told them,” Welsh said. “They were sad, and crying.”
Lindsley planned to tell her daughter after school.
Their daughters are 8, 10 and 11.
Renn said Gronsky is so positive. She said the studio will keep going.
“There is no bigger family than a dance studio,” Welsh said
Karen Gronsky could not be reached for comment, but she thanked her supporters via Twitter.
“THANK YOU so much! Words cannot describe how much your outpouring of Love is comforting me. We will be dancing (somewhere) come September! I promise! I will once again “Get By with a “Lotta” help from my Friends!” Every little thing is going to be alright… #KEEPONDANCING #ILOVEYOU love you, Miss Karen”Reporter Rick Dandes also contributed to this story.