Firefighters, neighbors unable to save Leechburg woman, 96, from burning home
Jeremiah Hileman tried to get into his neighbor's burning house, but he just couldn't.
Hileman said he heard popping Wednesday afternoon, and at first thought someone was messing with his house on Leechburg's Beale Avenue. But it wasn't his house.
The house immediately next door, at the corner of Beale and Pitt Street, was on fire.
"I came out and saw smoke everywhere," he said. "Flames were shooting out of the windows."
Andrea Sendry, 70, was outside the house she shared with her mother, trying to go back in to try to save her.
But unable to get out on her own, and out of reach of rescuers, Pearl Sendry died. She was 96.
According to neighbors and officials at the scene, Pearl Sendry was disabled or handicapped. Hileman said she was bedridden, and lived on the first floor of the two-story house under her daughter's care.
"They were pretty quiet. They kept to themselves," Hileman said. "Her mom always needed so much attention."
Leechburg fire Chief Tom Foster arrived in a snowplow pickup.
"When I got here, a police officer was trying to get the daughter away and we got her to come across the street," Foster said. "She kept wanting to go back in."
Foster said several attempts were made to get Pearl Sendry out of the house, but they couldn't get the door open. Firefighters ultimately got her out through a window.
Hileman felt really bad for her daughter.
"It's very disappointing knowing her mom was 3 feet on the other side of the wall and I couldn't get in," Hileman said.
Sendry was found on a couch, Armstrong County Coroner Brian Myers said. He pronounced her dead at the scene.
Myers said she died from carbon monoxide asphyxiation, and he ruled her death an accident. No autopsy will be performed, he said.
Andrea Sendry was taken to West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh, Myers said.
She suffered burns to her arms, said state police Trooper Chris Balcik, a fire marshal.
The fire was reported at 3:40 p.m., Armstrong County 911 said. Firefighters from about a half-dozen departments responded, with the first not leaving the scene until shortly after 7 p.m.
Thick smoke at times obscured the house from view from just across the street. Flames were periodically shooting out of a second-floor window at the front of the house.
Firefighters climbed up ladders and onto the snow- and ice-covered roof, where they cut into the roof with a chain saw.
Firefighters were initially concerned about the fire spreading to neighboring houses, but it didn't.
Foster said hoarding conditions inside the home made putting the fire out difficult.
"You would never have known it," he said. "This house was always picture-perfect on the outside."
The Sendrys were meticulous about their lawn, said neighbor Dusty Grantz, who lives directly across the street. She was sitting at the top of the steps to her porch as firefighters worked.
"We helped her when we could," Grantz said. "They were pretty content on doing things on their own."
Grantz was at work in Vandergrift when she heard about the fire.
"I just rushed home because someone said there was a fire on my street," she said. "I knew it was a neighbor's house. These houses are so close."
After learning Sendry had died in the fire, emotion welled up in Grantz's eyes, until she placed her head in her hands.
Balcik said Wednesday night he had not yet been able to determine where the fire started, or how.
"There's no reason to believe there's foul play," he said. "Based on what I know, I don't think that's going to change at all."
Because of conditions at the scene, Balcik said he was not able to get into the house to investigate. He also was not able to talk with Andrea Sendry.
Balcik said he plans to go back to the house Thursday, and to conduct more interviews.
Firefighters were called back to the scene Wednesday night when the remains of the house rekindled.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4701, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.