Knoxville fire likely a total loss for family |

Knoxville fire likely a total loss for family

Natasha Lindstrom
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Fire and EMS respond to a fire on Reifert Street in Knoxville on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.
Courtesy of the Holzwarth family
The Halzworth family on an annual vacation together in June, a few months prior to the Sept. 3, 2019 fire that destroyed their Knoxville home. From left to right: Sarah, 39; Trent, 11; Ed, 44; and Joceyln, 18.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Fire and EMS respond to a fire on Reifert Street in Knoxville on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.
A fire spread to two homes along Knoxville’s Jucunda Street on Feb. 5, 2019.

The relatives of a family of four displaced by a fire that gutted their longtime home in Pittsburgh’s Knoxville neighborhood are seeking help from the community.

Sarah and Ed Holzwarth, their 11-year-old son, Trent, and 18-year-old daughter Jocelyn are one of two families whose houses on Reifert Street were destroyed by a five-alarm fire that raged for more than an hour midday Tuesday.

The American Red Cross put the the trio up in a hotel for a few days. Attempts to reach the other family displaced by the fire have not been successful.

The Holzwarth family is working to find an apartment through insurance agents, who suspect the damage to the roughly 2,700-square-foot house is a total loss, Ed Holzwarth said. The family has owned the home for nearly two decades.

Allison Zorn, Sarah Holzwarth’s sister, set up a GoFundMe online fundraising campaign to help the family get through the transition.

“They want to say thank you in advance for any help,” Zorn told the Tribune-Review by phone Wednesday from her home in King of Prussia.

About $126 was raised by 9 p.m. Wednesday.

In addition to monetary contributions, the family could use items such as new toiletries, clothing (Trent wears a youth size L), household goods, personal items and other basic needs. Zorn, who is coordinating the fundraising effort, can be reached by email at [email protected]

“This family home is not salvageable, and they will have to find a new place to call home,” Zorn wrote on the website. “Whatever you can help to donate would be greatly appreciated. If you are unable to donate, please say a prayer.”

Trent, who recently started the seventh grade, was at South Brooks Middle School when a fast-moving fire broke out at about 11:30 a.m. Jocelyn wasn’t home either as she recently enrolled in Robert Morris University.

Their parents were at work. Sarah and Ed Holzwarth raced back to the house after neighbors called to alert them about the flames spreading toward their property.

“I came home, and it was already ablaze,” said Ed Holzwarth, 44, a service technician for Q-Dot Inc., a mechanical contractor based in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.

Their two dogs — a Boxer-Labrador mix named Chloe and a Husky named Rosie — were still inside.

As soon as she got there, Sarah Holzwarth, 39, a PNC Bank teller, tried to run into the house to let the dogs out. Authorities held her back.

Soon after, firefighters managed to get both of the Holzwarth family’s dogs outside safely.

A third dog — a Chihuahua who lived next door known as “Chi-Chi” or “Cheech” — died in the house where the fire originated, officials said.

It took firefighters nearly 90 minutes to get control of the fire that damaged a total of three houses. The walls of the homes were just a few feet apart from each other. Nobody lived in the third affected property.

No one was seriously injured. Three people narrowly escaped the house where the fire began with the help of people who happened to be nearby before firefighters arrived. Neighbors and witnesses — including 17-year-old Rayshawn Brown — helped save a man, woman and toddler stranded on a burning porch roof of the house where the fire began. The child was unharmed, officials said.

Four firefighters and a police officer suffered minor injuries, Public Safety spokesman Chris Togneri said.

A soggy, soot-covered Steelers blanket and favorite pillow were all the Holzwarths managed to salvage for Trent, who turns 12 on Sept. 19.

Just about everything else under their now-half-missing roof was ruined by the fire and ensuing smoke and water damage.

“All the rooms are destroyed,” Ed Holzwarth said Tuesday, a few minutes after getting his first look at the mangled debris and water-damaged interior. “The house is totaled.”

Pittsburgh’s Public Safety officials are investigating what caused the fire.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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