Homeowner dies in Allegheny Township fire; wife sustains burns

Tom Yerace
| Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, 8:27 a.m.

An early morning house fire Saturday in Allegheny Township killed one of the residents and resulted in another being hospitalized with burns.

Westmoreland County Deputy Coroner Josh Zappone identified the deceased as Dennis Zidek, 70. Further details on his death are pending the results of an autopsy scheduled for today.

The fire broke out around 4:30 a.m. at 14 Louise St., off of School Road, according to Westmoreland County 911, about a mile and half from the intersection of Hyde Park Road and the Route 56 bypass.

At the fire scene around noon, John Grantz, 47, of Oklahoma Borough, said Zidek is his stepfather and that he was told his mother, Linda Zidek, suffered severe burns. She was taken to West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh and a spokeswoman there said late Saturday afternoon that no information on Linda Zidek's condition was being released at per the family's instructions.

A next-door neighbor, Carlton Smith, 24, who called in the fire, managed to help Linda Zidek escape the burning two-story house, according to Grantz and Robert Fortuna Jr., who lives at 12 Louise St., on the other side of the Zidek house.

Smith was not available to speak to a reporter. His stepfather, who identified himself only as Mr. Allen said that Smith was shaken up by the incident.

“He said he heard the dog barking and then he said he heard something like trees burning,” Allen said. “He just wishes he could have gotten there sooner. He's a little upset he didn't' get everybody out.”

Fortuna, 41, said Smith's wife, Tiffany, pounded on their door to awaken him apparently while Smith was helping the Zideks.

“It was so engulfed in flames, I don't know how she (Zidek) got out,” Fortuna said. “It was so hot, it melted the blinds inside my house.”

He said he immediately got his wife, Rebecca, their 4-year-old granddaughter and their dogs out of the house. Then he went back to move his propane gas grill to keep it from exploding on a side deck facing the Zidek house. Fortuna said he was choking from the thick black smoke pouring from the house and felt the intense heat.

“It was pretty hot,” he said. “I'm surprised the deck didn't' catch fire.”

The Zideks' home, which was a two-story structure was destroyed with only about one-quarter of it still standing. Fortuna's house had the siding melt due to the intensity of the flames and said there was also water damage to it.

“I give kudos to the fire department, they did an excellent job,” Fortuna said. “I want to thank them for saving my house. That house over there, they had no chance, it was fully engulfed.”

“It was so cold out there and to see the guys out there, they were focused on what they had to do and they just did an outstanding job,” said Lee Schumaker, the township's public safety director. “It was one of the best run scenes I've seen in a long time. It was very professional and I was very proud of all them.”

Grantz said his stepfather was a retired foundry worker and his mother's health has not been good over the past year. Also was at the scene was Linda Zidek's cousin, Roger Porter. He said he grew up in the destroyed house and the Zideks lived there since the early 90s.

Attempts to reach Allegheny Township Fire Co. No. 1 Chief Mike Nickels were unsuccessful.

Don Nickels, the company's first assistant chief and father of Mike Nickels, said about 10 fire departments responded and there were “at least” 50 firefighters on the scene. He said the last companies cleared the scene after Zidek's body was recovered, shortly after 11 a.m.

“From what I got from talking to Mike, they are thinking it started in the basement but there is nothing definite,” Nickels said. “Of course it went up through the floors and the floors all caved in so it's hard to tell.”

Nickels said the state police fire marshal was called into investigate and the cause has not been determined.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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