Volunteer firefighter, a Highlands student, accused of setting Brackenridge duplex fire
A fire that destroyed a vacant duplex in Brackenridge on Monday afternoon was intentionally set by a volunteer firefighter who used to live in one of the homes, authorities said.
Patrick Gillis, 18, a volunteer with the Pioneer Hose Fire Department in Brackenridge, is charged with arson, causing a catastrophe and intentionally destroying an unoccupied structure — all felonies.
Gillis is a senior at Highlands High School and was a junior firefighter for Highlands Hose Company.
The blaze that engulfed the two-story building in the 800 block of Seventh Avenue started in a microwave oven in the kitchen, fire investigators said.
No injuries were reported. The Allegheny County Fire Marshal's office estimated damage to the duplex at $150,000.
A witness told police that, before the fire was discovered, a man seen outside the house appeared to be “nervous and agitated, fidgeting, biting his nails and rolling his hands in his T-shirt,” according to an affidavit of probable cause.
The witness told investigators that the man seen at the home was among the firefighters who responded after the blaze was reported at 4:22 p.m.
Another witness, who lives across the street from the home that was destroyed, told investigators that Gillis was at the house about 3:45 p.m.
When police questioned Gillis at the scene, he told them he had moved out of the Seventh Street home but was supposed to meet a friend at the duplex that afternoon. He said he left after about five minutes when the friend failed to show up. As he was walking away, he received a page to respond to a fire at the residence.
Gillis was taken into custody for additional questioning, during which he confessed that he started the fire by lighting paper and placing it in the microwave oven. He told police that he set the fire because he wanted to respond to a fire call.
Gillis remained in the Allegheny County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is set for 1 p.m. May 30 before District Judge Carolyn Bengel in Brackenridge.