By Christine D'Antonio

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CARNEGIE (KDKA) — What was once a cornerstone in the heart of Carnegie is now a burned-out shell.

Yellow caution tape ropes off the building that housed the popular Italian eatery PaPa J’s and 25 residents.

Rachel Lenfestey lived there for six years.

“This is my home, absolutely,” she said. “I loved my home.”

She watched the 100-year-old building burn Friday night after she narrowly escaped the intense flames and smoke.

“I got the fire extinguisher and I was about ready to pull the pin, and I looked at it and I was like, ‘If we stay here any longer, we’re going to die,'” she said.

John Michael Wells, 64, also lived there. He was in charge of the building’s maintenance. He perished in the fire.

“The flames were so high,” Lenfestey said. “Smoke was super dark.”

The damage was extensive. Right now, the future of the building is unclear.

“We contacted our engineer who has a structural engineer on staff, so they came out,” Carnegie Borough manager Steve Beuter said. “Our main goal was just to make sure the exterior was safe in order to keep things moving until this coming week when we can look a little bit deeper into it.”

Beuter says it will have to be determined this week if the building can be salvaged or possibly be torn down.

“Right now, on the borough’s end, that is very early to tell,” he said.

Beuter believes PaPa J’s will be rebuilt, although it’s unclear at this point if it will be at the corner of Broadway and East Main Street.

“That’s one of those areas that starts at PaPa J’s and everything expands from there,” he said. “It’s definitely a big loss but the community is here behind the family and the business and we’ll do everything we can to see it come back.”

At this point, no residents have been allowed back inside. The Red Cross is helping those who don’t have a place to stay.

An official Carnegie Borough Victim Relief Fund has been set up at PNC Bank. A GoFundMe account is also being linked to that fund.

To donate via GoFundMe, click here:

The Boys and Girls Club in Carnegie is also acting as a drop-off site for people who want to donate clothing, food and furniture.

Meanwhile, visitation will be held for Wells from noon to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday at William Slater II Funeral Services on Greentree Road.

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