McCandless apartment fire not deemed suspicious; donations sought | TribLIVE.com
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Tony LaRussa

It will take several days to determine the cause of a fire that destroyed the 30-unit Durham Court Apartment building in McCandless on Wednesday, but an initial investigation found it likely ignited accidentally, according to fire officials.

“The fire started on the deck of a third-floor apartment in the center of the building and quickly spread to the attic,” said Dan Stack, the Town of McCandless fire marshal. “We are still working to determine the exact cause of the fire, but it does not appear suspicious at this time.”

Stack said he requested assistance with the investigation from the Allegheny County Fire Marshal’s Office because they have equipment and resources local municipalities do not.

The roof of the building was destroyed and the apartments sustained significant smoke and water damage, but the units were not damaged by flames, Stack said.

The apartment building did not have sprinklers because it was constructed in 1965, which is before such systems were required, he said.

Stack said the apartments are uninhabitable because of the damage, but the building likely can be salvaged.

Aaron LeDonne, whose family owns the building, said insurance adjusters responded to the fire to assess the damage before the blaze even was extinguished.

“I’m very thankful that nobody was hurt,” he said. “I guess it’s up to the insurance company to help us decide where we go from here.”

Three of the 45 residents who lived in the building are receiving housing assistance and other help from the American Red Cross, Stack said.

The building’s residents are required to demonstrate they have insurance to cover the contents of their apartments when the units are leased, he said.

In addition to help with food, clothing, prescriptions and counseling from the Red Cross, local groups are working to assist residents affected by the fire.

The McCandless Community Association and North Hills Community Outreach will be at McCandless Town Hall on Grubbs Road from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday to collect donations.

Donations marked for “disaster relief” also can be made online.

The April 10 fire was reported at around 9:30 a.m. and the first emergency responders were on the scene within five minutes, according to Brown.

Firefighters encountered heavy smoke and flames when they arrived and called for additional fire companies to assist. In all, 26 fire departments responded to the incident or were placed on alert to assist if needed.

Even after the bulk of the fire was extinguished, flames rekindled in several locations, forcing firefighters to remain on scene for several hours to douse flareups.

One of the first calls to report the fire came from the building’s property manager, Stack said.

“She was receiving a furniture delivery to her apartment when the fire started and called 911,” he said. “As the call was being made, the two guys delivering the furniture went door-to-door to alert residents to get out.”

Firefighters had to assist a woman living on the third floor onto a ladder and another woman living on the first floor needed help getting out of her apartment, Stack said.

Only one “very minor” injury was reported, he said.

The entrance to the building is at 9500 Babcock Blvd., which is adjacent to the A.W. Beattie Career Center.

The technical school allowed the American Red Cross to set up a relief station for displaced residents who were given food, refreshments and other support services.

The Bonefish Grill in the nearby McCandless Crossing shopping center also provided meals to residents forced out of their homes.

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