Fire-damaged Harrison building to be razed
The cause of the fire that overtook a two-story brick building near Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison on Monday was still under investigation Tuesday, and will be determined by the Allegheny County Fire Marshal, a township fire chief said.
"We're glad as we come back here this morning and assess the scene, there was no further collapse or damage to the building — most importantly to what we refer to as the exposure building, the neighbors next door — that there was no further damage to their home," Hilltop Hose fire Chief Mike Krzeminski said Tuesday morning.
The fire was reported shortly before 2:30 p.m. Monday at 1300 Alabama Ave., which housed Pivot Physical Therapy on the ground floor and several apartments above.
Krzeminski and other township officials visited the scene Tuesday morning to assess the damage, which included a burned roof, blown out back wall and shattered front windows.
Krzeminski said the fire marshal did a cursory investigation Monday, and checked the scene again Tuesday.
"They're looking at the electrical situation on the second floor, and that is where they believe it started," Krzeminski said. "As for the damage to this building, there was an explosive event that happened on the first floor through the front of the structure onto Alabama Avenue. It blew out the glass windows and the back of the structure — took out the block wall and moved a couple of beams — so we are very concerned with the structural integrity of the building."
County spokeswoman Amie Downs didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Officials were worried Monday night that the damaged back wall could fall onto a house behind it on Carlisle Street. The couple who lives there, Curt and Lynn Coyne, weren't allowed to stay in their home Monday night.
"The Red Cross housed them," Krzeminski said. "We're hoping to get them back as soon as possible, but it all is hinged on the report of the engineer and when demolition begins."
Krzeminski said six people lived in the upstairs apartments, but he didn't know how many of the seven units were occupied. He said everyone who was in the building got out safely.
American Red Cross Western Pennsylvania Region spokesman Dan Tobin on Tuesday said the organization is providing four adults with comfort kits and help with lodging.
The township condemned the damaged building, which is owned by Micks Properties LLC, according to Allegheny County Real Estate Records. A phone message left for Micks Properties wasn't immediately returned.
Zoning Supervisor Lindsay Fraser said the building qualifies for an emergency demolition, and she is waiting for the township's building code official to file the proper documentation before steps can be made to tear it down.
Lynn Coyne said her son visited the fire scene Tuesday morning. She said he was told by Harrison officials that she and her husband won't be able to move back into her house until the fire-ravaged building is demolished.
"They need to remove the building before we're allowed back in the house," Coyne said. "All the utilities are off, and they said that we're going to be displaced for a month, they think, until that building is down and out of there."
"They're going to move as quickly as possible. They want to try to save my house because it's on the verge of falling on my house."
Coyne said the Red Cross set she and her husband up with a hotel on Monday night, and they are now in the process of trying to find another hotel to stay in until they're allowed back in their house.
"The Red Cross was amazing," she said.
She said her insurance company advised her to take things "a month at a time."
"I'm very sad," Coyne said. "We just bought that house, bought all new furniture when we moved in. We just made it a gorgeous little place.
"To see it in this position right now is devastating."
Krzeminski said natural gas is believed to have fueled the explosion, which blew out the wall facing the Coynes' house, dropping blocks into their backyard.
"We don't believe it was a back draft or a flash over at this point — we believe it was the natural gas to the building," he said.
He said two firefighters suffered minor injuries batting the blaze, but both were OK and remained at the scene.
"We're really lucky that no firefighters were (seriously) injured yesterday," Krzeminski said Tuesday. "There was a lot of potential for injury here, with the explosive event, with the size of the building, with the number of firefighters on scene."
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702, email@example.com, or on Twitter @maddyczebstrib.