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Hobbyist Badly Burned in Fireworks Explosion

Home heavily damaged, fire marshal investigating

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
May 20, 2021
Posted in: Crime and Police News, McKeesport and Region News

A Banker Street man who emergency personnel said is a fireworks enthusiast was badly burned Thursday morning in an explosion.

The victim, whose name was not immediately released, was airlifted by STAT MedEvac helicopter to UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh following the incident just before 3 a.m.

The Allegheny County police bomb squad responded to the scene to remove what officials described as a large quantity of fireworks, which were labeled for retail sale and appeared to have been purchased legally.

“Vast amounts, and when I say vast amounts, I mean there were many, many boxes throughout the house,” said McKeesport deputy fire Chief Tom Perciavalle. Some of the fireworks were in the large cardboard tubes of the types sold for public displays, he said.

Emergency personnel said the victim was reportedly a fireworks hobbyist who had a workshop area in the home’s attic and set off displays for friends, relatives and neighbors.

Investigators believe he was working on a project when something ignited some of the fireworks stored there.

The Allegheny County fire marshal’s office is investigating the cause of the blaze, but as of Thursday afternoon, detectives had not yet been able question the 24-year-old man who was injured, said Allegheny County police Inspector Michael Peairs.

“At this time, it doesn’t appear to be anything that is outside of the realm of an accidental fire, but as far as how the fire started, we have to defer to the fire marshal’s office,” he said. “The district attorney’s office is going to be consulted on whether or not criminal charges will be filed, and the ATF also was consulted because of the large quantity of fireworks involved.”

The total amount of fireworks and related material collected was not yet known Thursday afternoon, but county police detectives and fire investigators were on the scene throughout Thursday morning.

Peairs said a preliminary investigation indicated the commercial-grade fireworks removed from the home were legally purchased.

McKeesport firefighters were dispatched to the two-story wood frame home at 2:49 a.m. when callers to 9-1-1 reported an explosion.

Three people — identified as the victim, his 22-year-old wife, and her 67-year-old father — were able to escape on their own, officials said.

When fire crews from the Renziehausen Park station arrived at the scene, flames were visible through the second-story windows, Perciavalle said.

Additional firefighters responded from Glassport, Liberty Borough, Port Vue and White Oak No. 1, he said. The blaze was brought under control in about 20 minutes, Perciavalle said.

Perciavalle said the house suffered fire damage to a second-floor bedroom and the attic, and smoke and water damage throughout the rest, and will need extensive repairs. The American Red Cross was asked to assist the victims. A neighboring home sustained some damage to its vinyl siding.

The Salvation Army and McKeesport Area Rescue Service paramedics responded to the scene, with Rainbow firefighters on standby.

The tenants were renting the home from its owners, a couple from Washington County, officials said.

Jason Togyer is volunteer editor of Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published May 20, 2021.

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