PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A McKeesport neighborhood is in mourning today after an intense house fire claimed the life of a beloved elderly man in the early morning hours of Saturday.

Responders were already attending to a smoking furnace on the other side of town when they were called around 5:40 a.m. to the 400-block of Archer Street in Port Vue.

When they arrived on scene, it turned out the home belonged to 87-year-old Robert Gaska who was beloved by many in the community, including many of the firefighters.

“Unfortunately in this neighborhood, they’re all close-knit family and we’ve lost one of the best guys of the neighborhood I understand,” McKeesport Fire Chief Kevin Lust said. “And unfortunately, my firefighters, off-duty, are this gentleman’s best friends.”

Lust said Gaska was well looked after by family and neighbors.

Gaska’s body was found in the basement. Officials believe the intense heat caused the first floor to collapse.

The cause and origin of the fire remain under investigation by the Allegheny County Fire Marshal.

Lust also said an off-duty fireman lives across the street and attempted to save Gaska. Andrew Naylor, a neighbor, had just returned home from work this morning when he noticed the orange glow and then saw flames.

“All you could hear was wood cracking and glass breaking, and I mean, smoke was pouring out of the house,” said Naylor.

He immediately tried to rescue his neighbor.

“Came down, tried to beat the door down, didn’t work too well, started screaming,” Naylor said. “The neighbor… he’s a firefighter; came out and assisted us until police and firefighters showed up.”

Neighbors say the victim’s son checks on him just about every morning, but he couldn’t get there on Friday because of the severe winter weather.

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