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Intense Fire Destroys 10th Ward Auto Shop

Downed power line cited as possible cause of fast-moving blaze

By Staff Reports
The Tube City Almanac
July 16, 2021
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Editor’s Note: This is a developing story and is subject to change.

A massive fire destroyed a car repair shop in the city’s 10th Ward on Friday evening, sending a pillar of black smoke into the air that could be seen for miles.

Despite the efforts of firefighters from departments throughout Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, within a few hours, little remained of McKeesport Auto Body Inc. besides the outer walls. Crews were still on the scene early Saturday morning.

The fire was reported at around 5:30 p.m. and quickly went to multiple alarms. It broke out shortly after a line of thunderstorms, bringing high winds, moved through the area.

According to emergency personnel, there were reports that power lines fell onto the building’s roof, igniting the blaze. A witness told KDKA-TV they heard a loud explosion and saw burning power lines on top of the building.

The Allegheny County fire marshal’s office was on the scene Friday night investigating the cause.

The one-story building was located at 601 Rebecca St., less than a block up the hill from West Fifth Avenue.

Firefighters said the intense blaze was fueled by auto parts, tires, paint and chemicals used within the building. Witnesses reported hearing muffled explosions from inside the structure and police urged bystanders to keep back.

With the roof collapsing, firefighters adopted what they called a “defensive” posture, attacking the blaze from outside.

At least one firefighter was reportedly taken to the hospital, suffering from what one source described as possible heat exhaustion.

Even under constant streams of water and chemical firefighting agents, flames shot from the top of the one-story building for hours. A neighboring home at 605 Rebecca St. was evacuated.

Some firefighters said lack of water hampered efforts to bring the blaze under control. Tanker trucks filled with water came from Lincoln Borough, Monroeville No. 5, Larimer, Rillton and Collinsburg volunteer fire departments and were staging at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Upston Street in Port Vue.

Just after 10 p.m., Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County crews were dispatched to a report of a water line break near Portsmouth Drive in Port Vue.

Tankers had been refilling at a nearby hydrant throughout the evening but it was unclear Friday night if the break was directly related to the firefighting efforts.

Residents in 10th Ward and Port Vue reported low water pressure and discolored tap water throughout Friday evening.

Tanker trucks also were seen refilling at a fire hydrant on Monongahela Avenue in Glassport and were continuing to shuttle water to the fire scene on Saturday morning.

McKeesport Auto Body, a fixture in McKeesport since 1979, was founded by Thomas J. Borucki Jr., and the 5,600-square-foot building on Rebecca Street had been owned by the Borucki family since 1990, according to Allegheny County tax records.

The firefighting effort forced detours throughout the city’s 10th Ward as well as Port Vue, and Rebecca Street, West Fifth Avenue and part of Washington Boulevard all were closed.

Duquesne Light reported that 28 customers were without power on Friday night.

Besides city firefighters, crews at the scene included volunteers from Collinsburg, Dravosburg, Duquesne Annex, Forest Hills, Glassport, Larimer, Liberty, Lincoln, Monroeville No. 5, Munhall No. 1, Port Vue Vigilant Hose Co., Rillton, West Mifflin No. 2 and White Oak, and as well as firefighters from Allegheny County Airport and paramedics and emergency medical technicians from McKeesport Ambulance Rescue Service and SouthEast Regional Emergency Medical Service.

Emergency personnel said Blaine Hill and Versailles firefighters were on standby for Vigilant Hose Co., while West Mifflin No. 3 and Fire Department of North Versailles crews were on standby for McKeesport and Munhall No. 5 on standby for Duquesne Annex.

The Salvation Army also responded to the scene.

Originally published July 16, 2021.

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