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Investigators comb debris; officials suspect blaze was deliberately set
With the intensity of this fire and the scope of the damage caused in such a short time, the fire marshal has brought in an accelerant detection K-9 unit to investigate. @WPXI https://t.co/hs9420bP8k pic.twitter.com/acMYo5nTIa— Pete DeLuca WPXI (@PeteDeLucaTV) June 30, 2022
Investigators were searching for clues on Thursday following a devastating Soles Street fire that destroyed four homes. Officials suspect the fire was deliberately set.
The Allegheny County fire marshal’s office is probing the cause of the blaze, which was reported just after 2 a.m. and also destroyed a parked vehicle. Some crews remained on the scene until almost noon.
Two McKeesport police officers — identified as Patrolmen Chuck Thomas and Anthony Ledonne — were credited with rescuing an elderly married couple from one of the houses that was on fire.
The husband and wife were taken to UPMC McKeesport hospital as a precautionary measure, said Gene Esken Jr., McKeesport deputy fire chief.
Neighbors said that investigators were interviewing witnesses and looking for surveillance video of the street from the time before the fire broke out. An accelerant-sniffing dog also was brought to the scene.
Two of the four houses that burned were vacant. There was speculation that one of the homes may have been deliberately set ablaze as retaliation for an earlier dispute.
County spokeswoman Amie Downs told Tube City Almanac on Thursday that officials could not comment on any details of the investigation.
Esken said firefighters were dispatched to the 1800 block of Soles Street at 2:03 a.m. and arrived to find two houses fully engulfed in flame. A second alarm was raised at 2:06 a.m., he said.
All four houses were older, two-story, wood-frame structures approximately 10 feet apart, he said, which allowed the fire to spread quickly and hampered efforts to fight the blazes.
“Once you get fire in those walls, it’s hard to stop,” Esken said. “When we arrived, 1804 (Soles) and 1806 were fully involved,” and the house at 1806 “was almost collapsing. Thankfully, we were able to keep it contained to those four houses — we could have lost the block.”
In addition to all available on- and off-duty city fire crews, firefighters also responded from Allegheny County Airport, Dravosburg, Duquesne Annex, Glassport, Liberty, Munhall No. 1, North Versailles Twp., Rainbow, Versailles and White Oak No. 1, along with the Salvation Army.
The three residents of 1806 Soles escaped safely, along with their dog, and assisted Thomas and Ledonne in rescuing the residents of 1804, Esken said.
Esken said the occupants of one of the homes were awakened by noise on their front porch and saw the fire, then escaped.
Although the cause and origin of the blaze are still under investigation, Esken said firefighters believe the flames spread from the house to a Chevrolet SUV parked in the street, and not from the SUV to the home.
“The flames were halfway across Soles Street when we arrived,” he said.
The gasoline tank on the SUV ruptured, which added to the firefighting difficulties, he said. Video captured by crews from Pittsburgh’s WPXI-TV showed a stream of gasoline on fire and running down the street.
Dry-powder chemical extinguishers were used to fight the car fire, Esken said, adding that McKeesport crews stopped using so-called “Class B” firefighting foam — intended for use on inflammable liquids — after chemicals from that foam entered the water supply following a blaze at McKeesport Auto Body in 2021.
Firefighters needed approximately three hours to bring the house fires fully under control, Esken said. A firefighter from Citizens Hose Co. of Glassport sustained an arm injury and was taken to UPMC McKeesport for treatment, he said.
McKeesport crews also responded to two minor fires on Wednesday evening. In one case, crews found a belt had malfunctioned on a washing machine at an apartment building on Versailles Avenue, causing smoke to fill the room. In the other, firefighters found a mattress and box spring ablaze at an unoccupied house on Ravine Street, Esken said. No injuries were reported in that fire.
Originally published June 30, 2022.