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Blaze guts 1 Glassport building, damages 2nd

| Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, 2:35 p.m.

Glassport chiropractor Joel Slafka is cleaning up his building, hoping he can reopen Wednesday.

A weekend fire gutted the two-story frame building adjacent to Slafka's and severely damaged a storage facility on the other side.

“I appreciate everything (the Glassport volunteer firefighters) did,” Slafka said Sunday. “If it weren't for them, I wouldn't have a building.

Firefighters put blue plastic covers on Slafka's equipment as he and his girl friend Anna Lucas of Finleyville worked on a storage area in the back of his first-floor office.

Next door, the borough posted “uninhabitable” signs outside a boarded-up apartment house at the rear of 641 Monongahela Ave. and a building that served as a warehouse and garage at the rear of 637 Monongahela Ave.

Allegheny County investigators are probing what is being called a suspicious fire early Saturday in the frame house along Hemlock Alley, which runs parallel to Monongahela.

It was the second time in eight months that a fire occurred there.

“There is heavy fire damage and a good deal of structural damage,” county Chief of Emergency Services Alvin Henderson said about the building at the rear of 641 Monongahela. “I would term it a 100 percent loss.”

There were no injuries, but two residents of a nearby apartment house were displaced because a flooded basement affected power service.

“Our basement got flooded because of the water from that fire,” Chas Smith said.

He said he and an elderly woman likely would be out of their apartments for as many as two days.

Dominique Buccina, communications specialist for the American Red Cross Western Pennsylvania Region, said the two displaced adults were assisted with food and shelter.

Drainage problems caused the water flowing from the fire scene to make Monongahela Avenue resemble the Monongahela River.

The building also houses Eliminator Pest Control on the first floor.

County fire marshals noted that there were no active utilities at the rear of 641 Monongahela.

“When we came, it was fully involved,” Glassport Citizens Hose Co. Chief Wayne Lewis said. That was shortly after county dispatchers were called at 6:57 a.m.

Firefighters quickly dealt with the inferno they found but still were working with flames on the roof an hour into the battle. The fire was declared under control within two hours, but crews remained on the scene for more than four hours.

“This is the second time,” neighbor Larry Sikorski said. “They caught it the first time.”

Lewis said the first fire was on May 28.

Attention is being focused on a man who went to the nearby Glassport Diner shortly before 7.

“A man ran through the front door and said, ‘fire,'” waitress Kris Salhus said. “I said, ‘Geri, call 911.'”

“When we first saw it, it wasn't that bad,” cook Geri Riley said. “Then it went up real fast.”

Salhus said the man was not a regular patron at the diner, which is a short distance from the fire scene, but two borough police officers were there when the man came in.

“The guy who came in disappeared,” Riley said.

Salhaus told a county detective that the fire appeared to be on the inside of the building.

“It was supposed to be sealed up tight,” Sikorski said. “I guess it wasn't.”

Sikorski and others in nearby apartment buildings were evacuated because of the smoke.

“They banged on the door and told me to get out,” Paul Richards said.

Lewis said there was smoke damage to Slafka's office building, while the storage building on the other side had minor fire and heavy smoke damage.

The owner of the ravaged building reportedly was out of the country at the time of the fire.

Other buildings affected by the smoke house the Tiki Hut tanning and hair salon as well as Glassport Treasure Shop, whose owner Jean Vannatta just reopened for business after recent surgery.

“The back is real bad,” Vannatta said.

Otherwise it appeared the collection of goods ranging from knick-knacks to appliances was spared.

“This stuff can be replaced,” Vannatta said as she expressed her relief that “nobody got hurt.”

Vannatta was the object of concern from friends Faye DeWalt and her husband Raymond, who were awakened by the fire call and heard about it on a police scanner.

“The siren woke us up,” Faye DeWalt said. “We heard 161 (Citizens Hose Co.) come out and that it was fully engulfed. That's when it hit us to come down here.”

Rapid intervention teams from Homestead and Jefferson 885 companies were on the scene. Clairton and McKeesport provided ladder trucks, and other assistance came from West Mifflin's Duquesne Annex company (filling air tanks), Dravosburg and Elizabeth.

“We're glad to help,” said McKeesport fire Chief Kevin Lust, whose department has a mutual aid agreement with Glassport.

“We have a good fire department,” Glassport Mayor Michael Evanovich said. “We have good backups.”

Also on the scene were Clairton's ambulance, a Salvation Army van, and police from Port Vue and Lincoln, who assisted Glassport police in keeping Monongahela Avenue closed during the fire. The street was reopened to traffic shortly after 11 a.m.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or

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