Former residents of fire-damaged Harrison building collect belongings before demolition
Scott Peterson was having issues with his electrical outlets in the days leading up to a fire that destroyed the apartment building where he was living in Harrison.
An electrician had come to the Alabama Avenue building to fix the sockets the morning of the blaze on April 9.
Peterson said the fire started just a couple of hours after the electrician had been there trying to figure out what was wrong.
"I saw a flash out of the left corner of my eye (and) I heard a groan out of my refrigerator," Peterson said of the minutes before he realized there was a fire in the ceiling.
After going downstairs to check the fuse panel two times, Peterson and the electrician returned to his apartment to sounds of the fire — and then he saw it.
"I could see the electrical conduit was glowing through the ceiling panels," he said.
In a panic, he tried to put the fire out himself, but quickly realized it was too late.
He then started banging on doors to get everyone out of the building.
"I tried to reach up and spray, but I realize it was already going," he said. "It was fast — smoke filled the building within eight minutes."
Tenants showed up Thursday to retrieve whatever belongings may have been spared in the fire before the building at 1300 Alabama Ave. was torn down. Under an agreement with the property's owner, Mick's Properties, the two-story building was being demolished Thursday and about half of it was down by last night.
The demolition will allow a family living in a house next door to return to their home, which was being threatened by the damaged building because the two were so close.
Investigators have said the fire was accidental and started in the second-floor ceiling. A cause has not been released. A message left with the Allegheny County Fire Marshal's office was not immediately returned.
Peterson's apartment was basically a total loss, but he was able to retrieve a candle holder that belonged to his grandmother. He had lived in the apartment for 10 years.
"There's just nothing but charcoal on the floor," he said. "I lost everything."
Veronica Cornetti was scheduled to move out of her apartment in just a few weeks, but instead lost almost all of her belongings to the fire.
She was able to salvage photos of elephants she used to work with for her job in Texas, but not much else.
"I got what I wanted as much as I can expect," she said.
Although she was able to save her dog and one cat, she is still missing another cat named Tyler. She isn't sure what happened to him.
For now, Cornetti is staying with family until she can get back on her feet.
"They're helping out a lot," she said.
Herb Henkle said he was "devastated and lost" as he carried out baskets of his belongings. He was filling his vehicle's trunk with everything he could grab before the building was demolished.
He considered himself one of the lucky ones — if that even exists in a situation like this — because his apartment was the least damaged and he has renters insurance.
He and his two dogs are staying with friends for now. He had lived in his apartment for a year.
Although a tough situation, he's trying not to dwell on the negatives.
"Tomorrow's another day," he said.
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @emilybalser.