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Apartment building destroyed

| Sunday, June 20, 2004

A fire that investigators believe was intentionally set destroyed a recently remodeled West Homestead apartment building Saturday, leaving 25 people homeless, police said.

"It's tentatively going to be ruled as arson," West Homestead police Chief Dave Ausburn said. Witnesses "saw somebody running from the building."

No one was injured. Investigators last night were looking for Christopher Gaines, 20, of West Homestead, for questioning in connection with the blaze that destroyed the 12-unit building in the 200 block of West Hazel Way, Ausburn said.

Gaines' former girlfriend and her two children lived in the apartment next to the one where the fire was set, the chief said. Gaines had visited her earlier in the day, he said. "We believe something is stemming from that incident," Ausburn said.

The two, who had broken up a couple of months ago, had not argued, he said. "He supposedly has it in his head that she's seeing somebody else; she's not, not that we're aware of," the chief said.

The fire was started by igniting an object in the living room of the apartment, he said. Representatives of the Allegheny County Fire Marshal's office, using a dog, determined that no accelerant had been used, he said.

The man who rented the apartment where the fire broke out has been in jail for three months, Ausburn said.

It took more than 3 1/2 hours for eight fire companies from Munhall, Homestead, West Homestead, Braddock and West Mifflin to control the fire, which was reported shortly before 1:30 p.m., he said. The building was destroyed, he said. Allegheny County property assessment records listed the property's value at $38,000 last year.

"The owner just finished remodeling the entire structure" and did not have insurance, Ausburn said.

The American Red Cross is providing food, clothing, medication and hotel rooms for several days to eight families, including 12 adults and four children, displaced by the fire, said spokeswoman Kelli Serencsa.

The county fire marshal and county police also are investigating, but couldn't be reached for comment. A 20-year-old West Homestead man was arrested at the scene and charged with disorderly conduct for repeatedly interrupting a police interview, Ausburn said.

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