Fire levels 105-year-old O'Hara house
O'HARA: Nate See, 26, walked around the pile of rubble Wednesday morning that once was the home he grew up in, looking for anything that might be salvageable.
A fire Tuesday night destroyed the 105-year-old house at 1138 Saxonburg Blvd. that belonged to his parents, Bob and Judy See.
No one was injured, but two cats died.
Because fire crews knocked the walls of the two-story house down to fight the fire, the aftermath made it appear more like a bomb had had been dropped on the home rather than a fire had swept through it.
Jim Habay, assistant chief at Parkview Volunteer Fire Department, said the fire started about 7:45 p.m., and crews from seven stations battled the blaze throughout the night. Tired crews remained on the scene until about 5:30 a.m., Habay said.
He said it appears the fire started in a wood-burning stove in the basement and quickly spread.
He said the Allegheny County Fire Marshal's office was called to investigate the cause. Nobody from the fire marshal's office was available to comment Wednesday afternoon.
Nate See said his father was alone in the residence when the blaze erupted and was able to escape unharmed.
The younger See, who also lives along Saxonburg Boulevard, said he was driving past the house when he saw an unusual sight.
"I saw this guy running around the street in his bare feet with a dog running next to him," Nate See said.
He then realized it was his father attempting to flag a motorist, yelling that the house was on fire. Nate See said he called 911.
Nate See said there was smoke pouring from the house, but he said he didn't see flames burst out of the windows for another 20 minutes.
Habay said because of the balloon-frame construction of the house the fire rapidly engulfed the structure, and by the time crews arrived there wasn't much they could do to save the building.
When balloon-frame homes were constructed the walls often were hollow from the basement to the attic, which allows fire to spread rapidly from floor to floor.
Balloon-frame construction became prevalent in the area as mining and mill communities developed.
"The fire spread from the foundation to the roof like an open chimney," Habay said.
As a result, Habay said in order to fight the fire a backhoe was brought in to tear out the walls.
"It was too dangerous to go into the house to get all the hot spots. We played it safe in case it collapsed," Habay said. "It was the only way we could put it out."
The fact that the house sat back from the road and only was accessible by a small bridge over a creek complicated matters, Habay said.
The water from the fire hoses coupled with the snow on the ground turned the scene into an ice rink.
Neither Nate See nor Habay could give a damage estimate, but the younger See said his parents were talking to an insurance agent Wednesday afternoon.
The younger See, who stayed at the scene all night, said there are some things that can never be replaced.
"Watching it, there's nothing you can do about it," Nate See said looking over the pile of rubble.
Crews from Pleasant Valley and Guyasuta in O'Hara, Middle Road in Indiana Township and the Villa and Undercliff fire departments in Shaler, also responded.