Another arson feared in Charleroi
Arson apparently struck Charleroi again Saturday — this time at the same residence where firefighters had to extinguish a blaze last summer.
Charleroi Fire Chief Robert Whiten Jr. said firefighters were summoned at 6:18 p.m. Saturday to 807 Prospect Ave. for a second-floor fire. Both Whiten and Charleroi Regional police Officer Billy Gardner confirmed the blaze was likely arson — the third suspected case this summer — because the house has no electricity and was boarded up since a two-story blaze on June 7, 2012, that was eventually ruled accidental.
The house has been abandoned since, Whiten said, adding the state police fire marshal was notified and will meet with him Monday to determine the official cause. The fire was likely ignited in a confined room on the second floor, he said.
“When I pulled up to the scene, we saw smoke coming from the second floor and I thought, ‘Here we go again,'” Whiten said. “It's an open-and-shut case because the house has no utilities and someone broke into a side door that was boarded up. We think it was a couple kids with nothing better to do.”
Gardner confirmed police are looking for two white male teenagers, approximately 18 years of age, who neighbors saw on the front porch of the structure minutes before the fire was reported. The investigation is ongoing, he said.
“I believe it was intentionally set … if there are no utilities, you're obviously ruling out electrical,” Gardner said. “Hopefully we'll get as lucky as we did the last time.”
Gardner was referring to the June 15 arrest of Dominic James Wright, 18, who is accused — along with a 13-year-old — of setting fire to an abandoned Washington Avenue residence.
Whiten said three of his firefighters faced a close call Saturday while shooting water up a stairwell when an explosion occurred. Whiten said the firefighters were fortunate that several upstairs windows were open at the time of the blast, which lessened the directional air flow.
“We had one guy standing on the steps, one at the bottom of steps and one at the door when the lead guy opened the nozzle and explosion caused by a backdraft from steam blew through a glass block window,” Whiten said. “It sounded like fireworks going off … we could've really had a mess. We're lucky we didn't lose three guys.”
One firefighter was slightly injured after turning an ankle, Whiten said, although none needed medical treatment for heat or smoke.
Charleroi, Lock Four, Fallowfield Township and Stockdale fire departments responded, as well as Mon Valley Emergency Medical Services and the Bentleyville Rapid Intervention Team.
Whiten said many of the suspicious fires set the past few years are in the same neighborhood within a three- to four-block radius stemming from Sixth to Tenth streets and from Lookout Avenue all the way downhill to McKean Avenue.
“It just seems like that end of town is a real pain in the butt,” he said. “The majority of (landlords) live out of town and let these places rot away and the borough has to spend good money they could be using for streets and other redevelopment.”
Whiten stressed he hopes the borough makes razing abandoned properties an even higher priority because continued fires are putting nearby properties — and his men — at risk.
“It gets frustrating for the borough, for the fire department and the police … you can't help when someone has a legitimate fire, but this arson thing is depressing and it's disgusting,” he said. “Hopefully, someone says something and police will be able to nail this person or persons. Word of mouth is always the best method and what you hope for is to get help from the community.”
Anyone with information is urged to call Charleroi Regional police at 724-483-3418.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.