Hundreds of residents were waiting well past midnight to re-enter their homes after a fire in Wilkins at Brentmoor at Penn Center Saturday night.
Mina Shapiro was in her fourth floor apartment shortly after 9 p.m. when her neighbour Donny knocked on the door, saying there was a fire in the apartment he shares with his mother.
The hallway, Shapiro said, "was filled with smoke."
"My apartment started filling with smoke too."
They went to the balcony, and when fire crews arrived, Shapiro, 85, was brought down in the cherry picker.
By then, she saw flames shooting from the fifth floor.
The 11-story building had 224 living units. The area filled with hundreds of residents, firemen, emergency crews and onlookers as the fire was put under control and the waiting began.
The Allegheny County Fire Marshall is investigating the cause of what started the fire in unit 407.
Frank Mastandrea, Chief of the Woodland Hills EMS, said the woman who lived in 407 was transported to UPMC Mercy and a fireman from Monroeville was taken to Forbes for smoke inhalation. Their conditions were not known.
About two hours after the fire had been extinguished, the building remained evacuated. Emergency responders passed out blankets and water bottles. Residents walked their dogs or held them close as they waited on the lawn.
Colleen Higgins, 25, was just arriving home shortly before 10 p.m. Her parents arrived from Massachusetts for a visit early that morning, and her mother, Debbie, was inside her apartment on the fourth floor.
"I opened the door and saw the hall filling with smoke," she said. "I thought, I better get out of here."
Standing with her daughter outside the building later, as they waited news on re-entry, she said she was glad she was here.
"We'd have been in the car driving down here," if they knew their daughter's building caught fire otherwise, she said.
Chief Scott Feyes of the Monroeville Volunteer Fire Company No. 4, who was heading up the scene, said there was no word on re-entry. He estimated crews would be on scene until 3 or 4 a.m. to monitor hazards and continue cleaning up.
Just two units, where the fire started and the one above it, were heavily damaged, he said.
"It's noncombustible, it's nearly all concrete," he said. "So that's why the fire didn't spread on the interior of the building." Other units were damaged by heat, smoke and water, he said.
Departments from Churchill, Swissvale, Turtle Creek Edgewood, Forest Hills, and others responded to the scene. The Salvation Army and American Red Cross were contacted to offer aid.
At least a dozen fire trucks lined the road to the building, and surrounded its back parking lot near the corner of the building where the fire started.
By 12:15 a.m., trucks started pulling away, and the ladders and cherry pickers were loaded down.
EMTs pushed stretchers full of blankets to those stranded outside. Brian Hart arrived home around 9:30, and remained outside waiting at 1 a.m.
"There was still some pretty good flames and smoke coming out," he said. "And I thought, 'This isn't good."
A resident since July 2012, Hart, 35, said a previous fire in the building similarly evacuated the building.
Dominique Sambuco sat on the sidewalk with her black cat Knives Chau in a carrier, who mewed intermittently.
"Her brother didn't want to come out," Sambuco said. She was alerted to the fire by her smoke alarm, as were the rest of the residents.
"Everybody left," she said.
SOURCE: THE PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW