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New Kensington couple escape fire

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 12:33 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Heavy smoke pours out of 201 Pershing Drive on Tuesday night as New Kensington Company 4 firefighters enter after an explosion in the basement spread, briefly trapping the owner. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

A New Kensington couple escaped serious injury when a minor explosion caused a fire in their basement Tuesday.

Paulette McCarthy said she and her husband, Thomas, were watching TV on the first floor of their house at 201 Pershing Ave. when the incident occurred about 8:15 p.m.

Pointing to some windows, Paulette McCarthy said: “We were sitting in this room watching TV and we heard a loud ‘pop.' We looked downstairs and saw all this smoke.”

She said her husband went downstairs and found a basket of Christmas decorations on fire next to a small table where a laptop computer was sitting.

He took the basket into a basement bathroom and put in the shower stall and she turned the water on it in an attempt to extinguish it.

Paulette McCarthy was forced back up to the first floor by heavy smoke. She said her husband became temporarily disoriented in the thick smoke but managed to escape through a basement back door.

Police Sgt. Sam Long said the McCarthys were outside the house when they arrived. Long said Thomas McCarthy was taken to West Penn Hospital, Pittsburgh, by ambulance, but he did not appear to have life-threatening injuries.

Paulette McCarthy said, “I just think that he swallowed a lot of smoke.”

New Kensington Assistant Fire Chief Ed Saliba Jr. said ambulance personnel told him that McCarthy, 62, was not burned.

“I guess he is going to stay overnight for observation, “ Saliba said.

Saliba estimated the damage to the house at roughly $20,000 to $25,000. He said there was smoke damage throughout the house, minimal water damage to the first floor but considerable smoke, water and fire damage to the basement. Saliba said there did not appear to be major structural damage.

“The bathroom in the basement was completely gutted,” Saliba said. “It got into the shower, into the joists under the first floor, and there's electrical conduit there and it just followed it up into a wall on the first floor.”

Asked if the laptop's battery may have exploded, causing the ‘pop' the McCarthys heard, Saliba said he was not sure. A state police fire marshal has been summoned to determine the cause, although Saliba believes it was accidental.

About 40 to 45 firefighters from New Kensington Fire Companies 4, 2 and 1 and Lower Burrell No. 3 responded. They were on the scene until 9:50 p.m.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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