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Multiple houses burn in Mt. Oliver fire, displacing dozens of residents

Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Firefighters battle a four-alarm fire at Ormsby and Hayes avenues in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Firefighters battle a four-alarm fire at Ormsby and Hayes avenues in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - People looking for family members rush to the scene of a four-alarm fire at Ormsby and Hayes avenues in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>People looking for family members rush to the scene of a four-alarm fire at Ormsby and Hayes avenues in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - FirefightersFirefighters work from the roof of a home at Ormsby and Hayes avenues on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>FirefightersFirefighters work from the roof of a home at Ormsby and Hayes avenues on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - A firefighter comforts Mike Marburger at the scene of a four-alarm fire at his mother's, home on Ormsby Avenue in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A firefighter comforts Mike Marburger at the scene of a four-alarm fire at his mother's, home on Ormsby Avenue in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Firefighters battle a four-alarm fire at Ormsby and Hayes avenues in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Firefighters battle a four-alarm fire at Ormsby and Hayes avenues in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Residents react at to the sight of a four-alarm fire at Ormsby and Hayes avenues in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Residents react at to the sight of a four-alarm fire at Ormsby and Hayes avenues in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Firefighters use dozens of lines to battle a four-alarm fire on Sunday, June 8, 2014, at Ormsby and Hayes avenues in Mt. Oliver.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Firefighters use dozens of lines to battle a four-alarm fire on Sunday, June 8, 2014, at Ormsby and Hayes avenues in Mt. Oliver.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Shaun Gloeckl tries to protect his eyes from thick smoke as firefighters battle a blaze on Sunday, June 8, 2014, at his home on Ormsby Avenue in Mt. Oliver.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Shaun Gloeckl tries to protect his eyes from thick smoke as firefighters battle a blaze on Sunday, June 8, 2014, at his home on Ormsby Avenue in Mt. Oliver.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - A firefighter surveys the scene behind a row of homes on Ormsby Avenue in Mt. Oliver after a four-alarm fire on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A firefighter surveys the scene behind a row of homes on Ormsby Avenue in Mt. Oliver after a four-alarm fire on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Residents are brought to tears by the sight of burning houses on Sunday, June 8, 2014, in Mt. Oliver.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Residents are brought to tears by the sight of burning houses on Sunday, June 8, 2014, in Mt. Oliver.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Battalion Chief Richard Bon assesses the progress made to extinguish a four-alarm fire on Sunday, June 8, 2014, on Ormsby Avenue in Mt. Oliver.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Battalion Chief Richard Bon assesses the progress made to extinguish a four-alarm fire on Sunday, June 8, 2014, on Ormsby Avenue in Mt. Oliver.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re - Firefighters respond to a series of neighboring house fires in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re</em></div>Firefighters respond to a series of neighboring house fires in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re - Jenna Stotesbery (left), 8, Debbie Stotesbery, Kevin Coleman, and Lily Schwarz, all of Brentwood, watch firefighters respond to a series of house fires in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re</em></div>Jenna Stotesbery (left), 8, Debbie Stotesbery, Kevin Coleman, and Lily Schwarz, all of Brentwood, watch firefighters respond to a series of house fires in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re - A Pittsburgh Public Works worker uses a truck to knock down a smoldering house on Sunday, June 8, 2014, in Mt. Oliver.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re</em></div>A Pittsburgh Public Works worker uses a truck to knock down a smoldering house on Sunday, June 8, 2014, in Mt. Oliver.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re - Denaiya Lowry (right), 4, of Mt. Oliver looks out her neighbor's screen door after her house collapsed as a result of a fire on Sunday, June 8 2014. Lowry was able to escape the house with her family, and no one was hurt.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re</em></div>Denaiya Lowry (right), 4, of Mt. Oliver looks out her neighbor's screen door after her house collapsed as a result of a fire on Sunday, June 8 2014. Lowry was able to escape the house with her family, and no one was hurt.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re - Denaiya Lowry (left), 4, and her sister Shiona Gloeckl, 18 months, both of Mt. Oliver, sit on a porch across the street from their house, which collapsed as a result of a fire on Sunday, June 8, 2014. The sisters were able to escape the house with their family, and no one was hurt.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re</em></div>Denaiya Lowry (left), 4, and her sister Shiona Gloeckl, 18 months, both of Mt. Oliver, sit on a porch across the street from their  house, which collapsed as a result of a fire on Sunday, June 8, 2014. The sisters were able to escape the house with their family, and no one was hurt.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re - Firefighters sift through the rubble of a home that was destroyed in a fire on Sunday, June 8, 2014, in Mt. Oliver.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re</em></div>Firefighters sift through the rubble of a home that was destroyed in a fire on Sunday, June 8, 2014, in Mt. Oliver.

Daily Photo Galleries

Sunday, June 8, 2014, 11:10 a.m.
 

Balls of fire from a four-alarm blaze leaped across two Mt. Oliver streets on Sunday, burning 11 homes, damaging two others and displacing at least 48 people.

Neighbors said the blaze began in the basement of a home at 193 Ormsby Ave. after 10 a.m. Sunday and quickly spread to four adjoining houses.

The Allegheny County fire marshal was investigating the cause.

Matthew Scholl, 27, who lives a block from where the blaze broke out, said he saw bolts of fire coiled in black smoke jump across the street, igniting three more houses.

The flames sawed through power lines.

A column of smoke and roiling cinders that reached eight stories high drifted north toward St. Joseph Street, setting a building on fire there.

By the end of the afternoon, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Red Cross and the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services had established an overnight shelter for 39 adults and nine children in the Mt. Oliver Volunteer Fire Department on Brownsville Road. The Salvation Army is assisting them.

“I heard this popping. I looked up, and it was the breaker boxes exploding up and down the street,” Scholl said, pointing at poles that still shot sparks onto the pavement.

Tim Melzer, 46, was in a deep sleep on an upper floor of 193 Ormsby, having stayed up late watching television. He said he heard banging on his door and his son, Jeffrey, 24, screaming for him to get out.

“Flames were coming through the walls,” Tim Melzer said. “If it was not for my son ... I wouldn't be here now.”

Dave Smith, 38, a former volunteer firefighter and soldier who served in Iraq, tried to dash into the smoke to save Melzer's dogs — Duchess, a Dutch hound, and Odie, a beagle — but was stopped by the intense heat. The animals were believed to have died.

Across the street, however, he was able to rescue Cheryl Engel, 47, and her golden retriever, Trevor.

“My previous training in the fire department and the Army just kicked in,” said Smith, who lives a half-block from the fire. “We helped an old guy who was having trouble breathing.”

Engel was able to escape with her Bible but could not find her cat, Simon, and worried that he was lost.

“He's an old cat,” she said. “I hope that he made it, but no one knows.”

Cornell Grace, 59, an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Oakland, recalled smoke flowing through his Ormsby Avenue apartment. He grabbed a purple surgical mask and ran outside.

“It was black, all black, because of the smoke. It was like hell,” he said, pointing at two structures that were little more than rubble.

Watching from her apartment above the fire station — about three blocks from the blaze — Alexis Little, 36, said firefighters got stuck in traffic because a memorial service in a nearby funeral home finished shortly before the fire began.

“They were yelling, ‘We're stuck! We're stuck!' ” Little said. “They were trying to move the cars out of the way to get the truck on the way.”

By noon, Pittsburgh Public Safety director Michael Huss said firefighters had most of the blaze contained and that crews were roaming through a four-block radius to find spots where cinders might have ignited other fires. Huss said at least 100 firefighters were on the scene, including trucks from the city, Castle Shannon and Baldwin Borough.

One Pittsburgh firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion, but there were “no serious” injuries involving residents, Huss said.

Throughout the afternoon, residents' friends and relatives arrived at the scene, stretching across the yellow police tape to beg officers for information about elderly relatives they had not found. Residents took boxes of bottled water and potato chips to firefighters; others rummaged through their closets to give clothes to fire victims.

Scholl gave Tim Melzer a shirt and shoes. A woman who ran from the billowing smoke carrying a shoebox received a spare cage from Scholl and food for her hamster.

“There obviously has been a great deal of damage,” said Red Cross spokesman Kevin Brown at the emergency shelter. “We're going to deal with it.”

Carl Prine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7826 or cprine@tribweb.com.

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