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Arson suspected in Uniontown fire

| Sunday, Oct. 12, 2008

Authorities suspect arson in a fire that severely damaged a Uniontown apartment building late Saturday and left eight people homeless.

"The investigation's still continuing, but I have ruled it arson. At this point I'd prefer not to offer more details until the investigation is completed," Trooper Russ Freed, Uniontown state police fire marshal, said today.

The fire at 10:14 p.m. began on the third level of a wooden stairwell in the rear of the three-story, brick building on Lenox Street in Uniontown's north section, emergency dispatchers said. The flames spread quickly and charred the top two levels of the escape and a large portion of the first level while badly burning the kitchen areas of the building's six units.

No injuries were reported. Due to significant electrical damage to every unit, each tenant was required to evacuate for an undisclosed time period, fire Chief Myron Nypaver said.

City fire crews, assisted by eight other Fayette County departments, extinguished the fire by around 2 a.m., Nypaver said.

"We come to this building quite often, about 3 or 4 times a month, but it's normally for smoke alarms and things like that," Nypaver said. "This is definitely suspicious in nature."

Early this afternoon, some residents stepped over charred wood bits and shards of glass as they returned to recover what they could.

Jacob Jacobs, 53, and Joyce Lilley, 61, who have lived on the building's first floor since 2004, were relieved to find that 25 boxes of belongings packed for an upcoming move were still intact.

"If you ask me, someone was trying to get even with somebody," Lilley said.

Michelle Michaux, 46, of unit 7B, was at a relative's when the fire broke out and returned today to survey the damage to her home.

"It's sort of just hitting me now, but nobody was hurt and that's all that matters," she said.

The building is owned by Community Action of Fayette, an agency that provides housing for senior citizens, the disabled and low-income residents. It was unclear how many of the building's tenants were home at the time of the fire.

Staff at the nearby Rest Haven Personal Care Home Inc. on North Gallatin Avenue evacuated the home's 14 residents a few hours because of fears the fire would spread.

Next-door neighbor Tammy McKenzie, 52, of 11 Lenox Street, said her son Kyle, 20, heard what he thought was rain on their roof before realizing it was hot embers from the blaze.

"I screamed to get out of the house, and then we were trying to move our cars out of the way. People were running around screaming. It was chaotic for a while," McKenzie said.

Salvation Army of Uniontown provided the victims with temporary housing, and American Red Cross officials were also inquiring about aid today, Nypaver said.

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