PENN HILLS (KDKA) — Officials say a fire set intentionally damaged a crowded Penn Hills apartment building where no one was supposed to be living.

The building had been condemned, but not everyone moved out.

Firefighters from multiple departments responded to the Valmar Gardens Apartments on Monday night for the fire.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

“All of a sudden, we heard screaming. I looked outside and it was covered with smoke. I grabbed my son, a couple of our belongings and ran out,” said Jeremy Talkish.

Firefighters told KDKA it’s not the first, or even second time, they have responded to the buildings.

“There are people living in here, extension cords running from unit to unit because many don’t have power. So they are running the cords from one to the another to get power,” said Penn Hills Fire Marshal Chuck Miller.

Back in September 2018, the majority of families living at the complex left due to the deteriorating conditions and a landlord that was nowhere to be found.

“We condemned these buildings a year and a half ago. But family services went and got an injunction downtown and some peoples have been living here ever since,” Miller said.

At that time, about 20 families stayed behind.


Now there is no way to tell how many people live there, as many illegally moved back in.

The fire marshal said the structures aren’t safe and fires continue to happen.

Some of the fires have been set on purpose, including Monday nights.

“A lot of people just don’t want us here. So I think people are intentionally doing this because it’s happened before,” Talkish told KDKA.

Miller hopes this fire will be a sign to everyone that the buildings are dangerous and it’s time to go.

“We voiced our opinions, said it was going to be a dangerous situation. And there were going to be fires and other situations and there have been,” Miller said.

Miller told KDKA that Monday’s fire started in a basement unit, and they have determined a pile of debris in the kitchen was set on fire.

An investigation is underway.