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Wilmerding house burns again

| Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, 1:12 a.m.
Firefighters expose hidden fire in the attic area of an abandoned house on Maple Street in Wilmerding on Friday, Sept. 28, 2012. Ronald Vezzani Jr. | Daily News
Firefighters from Monroeville use a chain saw to cut open the roof of an abandoned house that caught fire on Maple Street in Wilmerding on Friday, Sept. 28, 2012.. Ronald Vezzani Jr. | Daily News

Allegheny County Fire Marshal is investigating a house fire in Wilmerding that some borough residents are calling suspicious.

The two-alarm blaze at 223 Third Street was reported on Friday around 12:15 p.m. at a vacant three-story structure behind Dorr's Moving & Storage warehouse.

The house has been boarded up with no utilities since a basement fire there in January.

Laura Parker said her daughter Lindsay Griffith owns the house and lived there with her children at the time of the January fire, but subsequently moved out because of the damage.

Parker said her daughter had been working with a contractor to repair the home so that the Griffiths could move back in.

"We went in to get a few things, and other things were salvageable," Parker said of the family's recovery efforts after the January fire. "We thought we had it pretty secure."Parker said her daughter recently broke up with a boyfriend, and that he threatened to "do something" to harm the family.

Griffith's daughter Victoria, 14, and son Austin, 12, said other youths in the borough told them they saw people going in and out of the house.

Resident Sandy Shearer was a few blocks away on Middle Avenue when she saw and smelled smoke.

"How does a house just catch fire with nobody living in it?" Shearer said.

Wilmerding fire Capt. Erinn Smelter said firefighters saw heavy smoke coming from the second floor when they arrived.

"By the time crews got in the front door, the fire was starting to show through the second division windows," Smelter said. "It was tough getting into the room where the fire was. By the time they got entry, (the fire had) run the walls into the third floor."

Smelter said she believes the fire originated on the second floor.

"The police were on scene," Smelter said. "They found a window broken on the back porch. They believe it was used to gain entry. It was broken open and handprints were seen."

North Versailles Township police confirmed that they secured a damaged rear window.

Also responding to the call were firefighters from Pitcairn, Monroeville, Turtle Creek and North Versailles Township, as well as East McKeesport police and Eastern Area Prehospital Services.

Eastern Area provided a rehab station for firefighters in front of the warehouse. EMS staffers said no one was injured.

Monroeville firefighters opened parts of the roof to vent the smoke, which at one point covered the intersection of Third Street and Maple Avenue, making it difficult for responders and onlookers to see and breath.

Smelter said she is especially proud of her first crew, which worked without a break for almost an hour."It being a daylight call, crews are light," Smelter said. "We had to call in extra companies to cover for people who were working during the day. We worked the best we could with what we had. My first crew did a bang-up job getting to the fire."

Wilmerding fire Chief Tom Hartzell said the building's "balloon construction" caused problems for firefighters battling the quickly spreading blaze.

Dorr's employee George Hawkins, who was working when emergency personnel arrived, said the warehouse does not appear to be damaged.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or