VANDERGRIFT (KDKA) — Nearly 150 firefighters from three counties spent hours battling a fast-moving fire that destroyed three homes and damaged two others in Westmoreland County.
The huge fire lit up the night sky over Vandergrift late Friday.
Bryan Belek and his family ran out of their house in the 500-block of Burns Street after they discovered the neighbor’s house next door was being devoured quickly by flames.
“I was lying down on my couch in the backroom of my house and I heard some noises outside, peculiar noises,” said Belek, a neighbor. “I looked out the window and I saw the back of his house was totally engulfed in flames. That’s when I yelled and got everybody out of my house.”
As the Beleks got out, the fire was working its way to other homes on the block.
“That was the structure that was fully involved when I arrived on scene. Then, it traveled both ways,” said Chief Steve Potoka, of the Vandergrift Fire Department. “It got into a garage and then into a neighboring structure down the hill.”
Investigators say the fire broke out at 519 Burns, but the cause remains unknown. The fire marshal is investigating.
Earlier, the man who lived in that house was arrested for illegal burning in his yard. He was released later, but the fire started sometime after he returned home.
“He was standing in the middle of the street and the one neighbor came down and accused him,” said Belek He says, ‘Why did you start the fire?’ And he started profanities towards him saying, ‘I didn’t do this.’”
“He was like yelling at my dad saying like, ‘How is this my fault?’ and everything,” said neighbor Lindsay Belek. “Well, I mean, it was his house.”
Firefighters did have problems with one hydrant, but it was a monstrous fire that raged out of control quickly. Three homes were destroyed and two others sustained heavy smoke and water damage.
“I just think we were using more than we were getting. That’s the biggest issue I think we had. So we turned and utilized tankers and stuff like that,” said Chief Potoka.
While police continue their investigation, they are not saying much about the man that neighbors believe may be responsible for the fire. We do know that he is in custody and will likely be facing charges.