HOMESTEAD (KDKA) – Investigators have filed charges against a man in connection with a massive early morning fire that consumed nearly an entire city block in Homestead on Friday.
The seven-alarm fire started around 4:30 a.m. in a three-story building that housed a tax office in the 200-block of East 8th Avenue. When crews got on the scene, they were told several people were trapped inside.
KDKA’s Bob Allen Reports:
All-in-all, five buildings and five businesses were destroyed.
This afternoon, police were questioning one person in connection with the fire.
“All I know at this point is, it is a resident of the structure of one of the apartments, and right now, there is further investigating and interviews that need to take place with that individual,” said Chief Alvin Henderson, of Allegheny County Emergency Services.
Later in the evening, charges were filed against that man, 27-year-old Edward McDonald. He spoke to reporters as he was being led away to jail by police.
McDonald: “Yeah, I guess I did.”
McDonald: “I don’t know. Maybe, I didn’t know what the day was. I don’t know, what is today?”
Police say McDonald lives in the apartment where they fire started.
According to the criminal complaint, investigators say McDonald told them he set his living room couch on fire in his second floor apartment with lighter fluid and a lighter.
The criminal complaint reports McDonald told investigators he is “schizophrenic and vaguely referred to other, unspecified mental conditions.” He also told police that “he constantly hears voices and sounds, and is tormented by visions and what the voices say to him.”
A few fellow tenants recall vague warnings from McDonald before the blaze broke out, according to the criminal complaint.
Jeffrey Walker was one of the first callers to 911.
“Smelled smoke, walked around the back of the building, saw the building being consumed, called the fire station,” said Walker. “I’m not a judge, but if he did this on purpose, he needs to be punished.”
Two people were rescued from the original building. They were taken to UPMC Mercy Hospital for smoke inhalation. When the firefighters got to the scene, only one building was on fire and they rescued the people by ladder.
Fire officials said early on that one man was unaccounted for, but he’s since been located. It’s unclear if he was in the building at the time of the fire.
Residents watched in horror as the fire spread from one building to the next. It wasn’t long before Bertha Morris saw her apartment fill with a red glow.
“It’s like I’m stripped down to nothing,” said Morris.
Homestead Mayor Betty Esper arrived on scene this morning.
“Buildings are buildings, but lives are our main concerns. I just hope nobody is in there.” said Esper.
She also told KDKA’s Heather Abraham at the scene: “It sure is devastating, devastating to our avenue that we tried to rebuild with new stores and businesses.”
KDKA’s Heather Abraham Reports:
PHOTOS: See aerial footage of the Homestead fire from NewsChopper 2
The fire spread to three other buildings in a matter of minutes. The building where the fire started eventually collapsed, only the brick façade was left of another building. Firefighters were pulled out of one building before the collapse.
Dozens of firefighters from around the area were called to the scene to help with search and rescue as well as putting the flames out.
The Red Cross is now assisting the fire victims with food, clothing and shelter.
McDonald was taken to the Allegheny County Jail. He is facing a long list of charges, including multiple counts of arson and causing or risking a catastrophe.
The Allegheny County Fire Marshal and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms continue to investigate.
Stay with KDKA-TV and kdka.com for the latest updates on this breaking news.