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Uniontown woman dies in fire; Mt. Lebanon firefighters injured in another

| Thursday, May 8, 2014, 4:32 p.m.
A woman dies in a house fire on the 600 block of Bitner road in Franklin Township this morning. Several fire departments responded to the fire. May 8, 2014

Two veteran Mt. Lebanon firefighters were injured Thursday inside a burning home in Dormont, and a Uniontown area woman who was eagerly awaiting her daughter's high school graduation died a few hours earlier in a house fire in Fayette County.

The Mt. Lebanon firefighters — whose names were not released — were taken to UPMC Mercy with injuries suffered when they fell through a hole on the second floor of the home that was being renovated in the 2800 block of Crosby Avenue, deputy Dormont fire Chief Jim Kolesky said.

One — identified only as a deputy fire chief — was admitted to the hospital with rib and knee injuries and a possible bruised lung, said Joe Thuransky, another of Mt. Lebanon's six deputy chiefs. The other firefighter, a lieutenant, was released following treatment, Thuransky said.

“They could not see the hole in the floor because of the thick smoke,” Thuransky said. “They didn't fall all the way through and were helped out of the hole by other firefighters.”

Kolesky said the residents, who are doing the renovations themselves, were not home when the fire started about 10:20 a.m.

It took firefighters from nine departments about four hours to bring the flames under control, Kolesky said.

Investigators are trying to determine what started the blaze, which caused extensive damage to the home, he said.

Sheila Porter, 46, was killed shortly after 8 a.m. in a fast-moving fire that swept through her home in the community of Bitner, about 5 miles north of Uniontown. Her daughter, Valerie Richard, is scheduled to graduate from Uniontown Area High School on June 13.

“Mom was really looking forward to seeing Valerie graduate. But I plan on still being there,” said Porter's son, Brandon Richard, 22, who was asleep when the fire started. Valerie Richard was in school.

“My dog, Baxter, woke me up. He doesn't bark, but he scratched at me to wake me up,” Brandon Richard said.

After looking down the hallway from his second-floor bedroom and seeing smoke and flames, he opened a window and jumped about 10 feet to an attached porch roof, he said. A neighbor helped him get down.

“The way (the fire) was going on that (other) side of the house, there was no way we could get Mom,” Richard said.

Smock fire Chief Tim Kelly said Porter apparently was trying to escape because she was found by the kitchen door.

“We tried a couple times, but we could just not get in. The heat pushed us back,” Kelly said.

The dog also died in the blaze that destroyed the home. A state police fire marshal is trying to determine a cause.

There were no injuries in a two-alarm fire that started about 3:50 p.m. in a vacant three-story building in the 100 block of 43rd Street in Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said. The roof collapsed during the blaze, she said.

Michael Hasch and Paul Peirce are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Staff writer Matthew Santoni contributed to this report.

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