O'Hara fire forces Mews residents out; no one seriously hurt

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, July 23, 2009

Firefighters carried and walked elderly residents down the stairs of a six-story apartment building as fire began to consume an unoccupied unit Wednesday afternoon.

The Allegheny County Fire Marshal was investigating the cause of the fire on the fifth floor of Fox Chapel Mews, 300 Fox Chapel Road, O'Hara, said Guyasuta Fire Chief Mike Dortenzo.

Township police said investigators were interviewing carpet installers who had been the last ones in the unit before the fire.

Investigators do not beleive the fire was intentional, police said.

Fox Chapel Mews consists of two large U-shaped buildings. The fire was in the southern building.

The fire, which went to three alarms, was reported to 911 at 4:13 p.m, emergency dispatchers said. Officials on the scene said between 40 and 60 residents were evacuated.

Most of the building's residents were allowed back in around 7:30 p.m. Residents of about 10 units were still out more than two hours later as a disaster restoration company cleaned up smoke and water damage, police said. It was not clear when they would be allowed to return.

Firefighters from a reported eight departments responded to the fire, primarily so that firefighters could be rotated due to the heat and humidity.

Port Authority buses were brought in so both the evacuated residents and firefighters could seek shelter in air conditioning. The nearby township building was also made available, said O'Hara Police Chief James Farringer.

An elderly woman was taken to UPMC St. Margaret hospital with cuts on her leg, said Rick Duffy, director of Foxwall Emergency Medical Services. He and other officials could not say how the woman was injured, but she appeared to have pre-existing issues with her legs.

Dortenzo said one firefighter was in good condition after being taken to a hospital with chest pain.

Dortenzo said the fire appeared to have originated in a small mechanical room on an exterior balcony. Fire damage was heavy but contained to the one apartment, which he said was not occupied and under renovation. He said it took firefighters 45 minutes to an hour to get the fire under control.

There was smoke throughout the fifth floor.

Dortenzo said it helped that the fire was during the day, as fewer residents were home at the time.

During the fire, Duffy said residents went to neighbors', were picked up by family or sought shelter on the Port Authority bus.

Traffic in the area of Fox Chapel and Freeport roads was snarled for more than three hours as Fox Chapel Road was closed to make room for fire trucks.

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