MERCER COUNTY Tenants get out of fire safely



The apartment building is likely a total loss.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
SHARON, Pa. -- Lisa McKelvey, 23, said she was gone from her second-floor apartment at 361 New Castle Ave. for only five minutes and returned to find firetrucks out front and smoke coming from her home.
Authorities said the fire broke out in her apartment at the four-apartment house around 10:45 a.m. Tuesday. A state police fire marshal said the cause remains undetermined.
Several people were home but all got out safely.
"I was sleeping," said John Dutcher, 20, who lived in a rear, first-floor unit.
He was awakened by a smoke alarm and went outside but saw nothing.
Saw smoke
He went back into his apartment but kept hearing the alarm, so he went outside again to check and that time saw smoke pouring from a second floor apartment above his.
"I salvaged everything I could and left," Dutcher said as he sat on a bicycle across the street, watching firefighters work to save the house.
"It's just so hard to see your house go up in flames,'" he said, adding that he only lived there for a few months.
McKelvey, who has a young son, said her baby-sitter arrived at her home but was hungry so she drove the sitter to a nearby market to get some chicken, taking her son with her.
McKelvey, who said she moved into the building six months ago, said she was gone only five minutes.
Authorities said National Fuel Gas employees were working in the neighborhood and spotted the fire, calling 911 for assistance.
Fire Capt. Terry Whalen said efforts to fight the blaze were hampered by the fact that the house had been remodeled and had a number of false walls and ceilings.
The fire burned up into the attic and it was very difficult to get into the attic, he said.
The blaze eventually burned through the roof, which collapsed into the attic.
The second floor had extensive fire damage while the first floor suffered heat, smoke and water damage.
Total loss expected
The building, owned by Mike Lowrey of Lowrey Automotive Center, is expected to be a total loss.
A state police fire marshal was to visit the scene to help pinpoint the cause of the blaze.
Lowrey said he bought the house 10 years ago and had the interior completely remodeled two years ago. It had just passed a city fire inspection about two months ago, he said.
All four of the apartments were occupied, he said.
He has insurance on the building, but it wasn't known if the tenants had renter's insurance.
Several firefighters were treated for minor injuries and heat exhaustion at the scene. One firefighter fell down some stairs and a second had some hot embers fall down the back of his neck but no one required hospital treatment, Whalen said.
Firefighters rescued four hamsters and a rabbit from one of the apartments.

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