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Fire damages building in East Ohio Street business district

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 12:34 a.m.
Pittsburgh police shut down portions of East Ohio Street and Cedar Avenue Thursday night as firefighters battled a blaze in the area. Adam Smeltz | Tribune-Review

A two-alarm fire ripped through a three-story brick building late Thursday in the North Side, forcing city emergency responders to close parts of East Ohio Street and Cedar Avenue for more than an hour.

No injuries were immediately reported in the blaze, which broke out about 11 p.m. in the 400 block of East Ohio. Second-floor tenant Vincent Burke, 48, said he was the only person who lived there and escaped safely.

The third and first floors have been vacant, but voices and shuffling footsteps on the third floor woke him around the time the fire erupted, Burke said. He said he went outside to investigate and saw the top of the building ablaze.

At that point, he said, it was too late to go back inside. Firefighters arrived and wouldn't let him return to the studio apartment where he has lived for about four years. They reported smoke coming from the third floor.

Unable to access the front through a boarded-up door, the firefighters went to the back and found heavy flames.

“I lost everything,” said Burke, standing outside with no coat as temperatures hovered in the 30s. “Thank God tomorrow's payday.”

Pittsburgh firefighters brought the fire under control by 11:44 p.m. but continued to fight hot spots well after midnight. Police said arson investigators were on the scene but not immediately available to talk. The second and third floors appeared to be severely damaged.

Burke said an intruder broke into the third floor earlier this week. He said that floor had no electricity or gas service connected. He suspects trespassers might have started a fire up there, he said.

An interior search crew later found the building was clear.

“It had to have been started manually. There's nothing up there that would have started that fire,” Burke said.

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