It was deja vu for at least 2 New Kensington fire survivors
For at least two of the survivors of a fire that destroyed a house in New Kensington about a week ago the experience, sadly, was deja vu.
One lost a brother in a fire three decades ago. Another lost a home to a fire about 10 years ago.
Kaylene Keener and her husband, Zane, lost all of their belongings in the April 4 fire at 1134 Seventh St. She was mourning the loss of her teacup Chihuahua, Maryjane, and her cat, Scarlet, which died in the fire.
“The Lord is with me,” Keener said. “He’s helping me.”
The Keeners lived on the second floor of the house, which had separate apartments on each of its three floors.
The cause of the fire is officially recorded as undetermined because of the extent of the damage, First Assistant Fire Chief Ed Saliba Jr. said. It is believed to have started on the first floor.
It is not considered suspicious.
The first-floor residents could not be located for comment. A woman who lived on the first floor was hurt when she jumped out a window to escape.
Sean Montemurro was in the attic apartment. He and the Keeners all stayed at a hotel for a while. They were most recently staying with family while working to get the money together to get into new apartments.
The Red Cross provided food, clothing and temporary lodging.
None of them had renters insurance.
Kaylene Keener, 56, said her family’s home on Second Avenue in New Kensington was destroyed by fire in 1982; her brother, Jeffrey Brink, died from burns he suffered in that fire.
Keener said she and Zane, 66, had lived on Seventh Street only since December.
She was home when the fire broke out. He was at work at the Pittsburgh Mills mall, where he’s a housekeeper.
Keener said she saw smoke coming through the floor. To get down the steps through the smoke, she followed the voice of a passing volunteer firefighter, Wayne Erb, who stopped on his way home from work to see if he could help.
“If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably be dead,” she said.
Keener said she was only able to recover some compact discs and DVDs from her place, but isn’t sure if they’ll work.
“I have nothing,” she said. “I lost everything in the fire.”
She still has scratches on her hands from Scarlet, which she only recently had adopted.
“It’s hard,” she said. “My stomach and everything has been in knots. I really haven’t been sleeping. I’ve been shaking a lot, breaking down and crying.”
The Keeners have found a new place to live in New Kensington. They have some donated furniture and appliances coming, but need to raise $1,200 for the first month’s rent and security deposit. She was working to clean it on Friday.
Kaylene’s daughter-in-law, Sara Brink, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money and was helping them pay for a new apartment. On Friday, it had raised $135 toward a $1,500 goal.
“They’re going to need pretty much everything,” Brink said.
Brink works at Walmart near Fox Chapel, where a co-worker bought and donated clothes for them.
“They have a lot of family,” Brink said. “We’re here for them. We’re trying to do as much as we can to get them back on their feet.”
Escape from the attic
Montemurro, 35, had lived in the attic apartment for almost four years. He initially got four guitars out of the building, and was able to pull out some tools and electronics when he went back later.
His cat, Mamas, died in the fire.
“It sucks, but I’m taking it reasonably well,” he said.
Montemurro, an independent contractor, also was home at the time of the fire, working on his computer. He was able to get down the steps through the smoke on his own.
“I heard some smoke detectors going off. It sounded far away. I thought someone burned food. I didn’t get up right away,” he said. “I started hearing people yelling from the street. I decided I better get down and see what’s going on.”
He opened his door to a wall of smoke. He ran out, without shoes or a shirt.
“I knew I was in trouble,” he said. “I started running down the steps. I couldn’t see anything. I held my breath. It was really hot.”
Kaylene Keener was already outside.
“Nobody even knew I was there,” he said.
This was the second fire he’s been through. He had been staying with his sister when her mobile home in Lower Burrell burned to the ground from an electrical fire in 2010 or 2011, he said.
He’s now trying to save up the money needed to get a new place.
“I’m trying to get as much work as I can,” he said. “I have to start over from nothing.”
Some help came to Montemurro and the others from patrons at the Blind Pig Saloon, a few doors down Seventh Street.
When the fire broke out, “We were in the middle of our acoustic jam that we do on Thursday nights,” owner Johanna Walters said. “Everyone was just feeling very badly. We started talking that we should do something for them.”
They took up a collection and got a little over $300. They didn’t know at the time that there were three separate families in the house; they split it three ways, Walters said.
“When you see where people lost everything, it makes you want to reach out,” she said. “Our patrons were extremely generous for a small little bar.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .