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Arson suspected in New Kensington fire

| Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, 11:42 p.m.
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
As flames roar out of the back of her house, a woman who was trapped is rescued by a neighbor with a ladder at a double house fire on Ridge Avenue in New Kensington on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2013.

The work a New Kensington man put into remodeling his home helped intensify the fire that destroyed it and prompted dramatic rescues early Sunday, the city's assistant fire chief said.

A state police fire marshal said someone set the fire that began at the home on Ridge Avenue shortly before 3 a.m. and spread to an adjacent home, said Ed Saliba Jr., first assistant chief with the New Kensington Fire Department.

Despite the intensity of the fire and smoke, no residents of either home or any firefighters were hurt, Saliba said.

How the fire was set is under investigation. A fire marshal could not be reached for comment.

Saliba said smoke detectors alerted residents of both homes to the fire. All escaped to the roofs over their front porches, where they got down by ladders.

The fire began on the back porch of the first house, spreading to all of its three floors and going through the roof, Saliba said.

“The flames were really going by the time (firefighters) got here,” said David Tempest, who lives across an alley from the back of the Ridge Avenue homes. “The fire was on its way.”

At the first house, Saliba said police got Tracy and Calvin Ott and three children down from their porch roof. A cat and a dog were also rescued from the house.

“I'm so upset,” neighbor Lorraine Brandl said, then referring to Calvin Ott. “He put his heart and soul into that house.”

Saliba said the Otts had done a “nice job” of remodeling their home, but the materials used were “very highly combustible” and helped fuel the fire.

“There was a ton of brown and black smoke inside that second and third floor,” Saliba said, adding that new windows held the smoke in.

A firefighter was just getting inside the house when he encountered the dog, a chocolate lab, that “looks at him right in the face,” Saliba said.

Saliba said the dog was very well behaved as firefighters coaxed it onto the porch roof and took it down by ladder.

“That dog was very fortunate he didn't die due to smoke inhalation,” Saliba said.

The fire damaged the kitchen at the back of Cecil and Charmaine Edwards' house next door. Saliba estimated the damage at about $25,000.

Neighbor Daryl Boreland said he was getting ready for bed when he heard the fire siren. He heard on a police scanner that the fire was in his area.

Boreland said he got a ladder from his back yard, which others used to first get Charmaine Edwards down, then Cecil Edwards. He said he's known the couple since he was a boy.

“I was kind of scared when I came out, if they were in there sleeping,” Boreland said. “I just don't ever want to be in a fire.”

The Red Cross is helping both families with lodging, clothes and food, spokesman Kevin Brown said. Both homes are insured, Saliba said.

New Kensington police were working to determine if the fire was connected to an armed home invasion-style robbery Saturday morning on Third Avenue.

The possible connection is that a Cadillac STS sedan stolen in that incident is registered to the Otts, police Chief Tom Klawinski said. The car was being used by their son, the police chief said.

The car was still missing on Sunday.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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