Empty Natrona houses a hazard, resident says after fire
Conrad Zylinski was awakened early Friday by people banging on his front door.
The long-vacant house next to his home in Harrison’s Natrona neighborhood was going up in flames.
“It was scary,” the 66-year-old Zylinski said, thanking the firefighters who responded. “They saved my place. My roof was steaming.”
He also was grateful that people pounded on his door to wake him around 1 a.m.
“They saved me, too,” he said. “It was going up fast.”
Hilltop Hose said on its Facebook page that firefighters focused on stopping the fire from spreading rather than trying to save the burning abandoned house at 51 Spruce St., which had partially collapsed.
Firefighters from Harrison and Brackenridge responded. The Allegheny County Fire Marshal is investigating what caused the fire.
Zylinski said investigators were looking at footage from his surveillance cameras. He wasn’t sure what they captured, given the darkness on that side of his house.
Later Friday, after getting little sleep, Zylinski said his home of 28 years stunk of smoke and suffered some roof damage, but he felt fortunate it was still standing.
It wasn’t Zylinski’s first close call with a neighborhood fire. In the early 2000s, he said a fire started in an empty duplex one house down on the other side and spread to the occupied house next to his. Both of those buildings were destroyed, and the lots where they once stood remain vacant.
Zylinski said the house that burned early Friday has been empty for at least 15 years.
It was once the home of Mary Karbonowicz, who had owned many properties in the Natrona area. She died in 2005 at 93.
People could get into it easily, and children had knocked glass out of its already broken windows in recent months, Zylinski said.
Harrison’s engineer was expected to condemn what was left of the house and have it torn down immediately, township code enforcement Officer Floyd “Bucky” Taraszewski said at the scene.
Looking down Spruce, Zylinski can see three to four more empty houses in a row, the nearest one appearing to be consumed by vegetation that’s also overtaken the sidewalk.
“These houses need to be knocked down. This is a problem in all the little river towns up and down Allegheny County,” he said. “There are multiple houses in Natrona that need to be taken care of; otherwise, somebody’s going to get killed.”
The township is working on the problem but it takes time and money, Harrison Commissioners President William Heasley said.
“We have a whole list of houses that need to be addressed,” he said. “You have to go through all the processes as far as finding the owners. It takes a while to get through the legalities and everything.
“We are trying to address the concerns,” he said.
Harrison was awarded a $500,000 state grant to tear down blighted buildings.
In May, Harrison added three Natrona Heights houses to five already on its demolition list.
Heasley said there are nearly 60 properties throughout the township that could potentially be demolished.
“We know there’s certainly a need in the Natrona area,” he said. “It’s just a matter of securing the funds and getting the ball rolling with it.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .