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Fire sweeps through Vandergrift neighborhood

posted Dec 31, 2013, 10:47 AM by Joseph Gray   [ updated Dec 31, 2013, 10:51 AM ]

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Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Firefighters battle a blaze at 519 Burns St. in Vandergrift, on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. The fire destroyed or heavily damaged at least three houses in the West Vandergrift section of the borough. No one was reported injured.
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By Brian C. Rittmeyer   
Published: Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 11:24 p.m.

A lack of water was preventing firefighters from stopping a fire that was devouring house after house on a tightly packed Vandergrift street on Friday night.

A fire that reportedly started at 519 Burns St. about 10:30 p.m. leveled that home and had spread to up to three others within two hours.

“They can't get water. My house is on fire,” Sherry Grazulis said as her home of 16 years at 521 Burns St. went up in flames. “I'm standing here watching my house burn. Where's the water?”

Grazulis' home and the house at 519 Burns collapsed.

A Vandergrift firefighter said one hydrant in the area was found to be broken.

He said there simply was not enough water, and multiple buildings were on fire when firefighters first arrived.

Firefighters were calling on the water company to boost pressure to the fire scene. Tankers were also being used to get water there.

Two firefighters were reportedly hurt as the effort to contain the fire continued. Electric lines were down in the area.

The Red Cross of Western Pennsylvania said it was assisting five adults and two children with clothing and food in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

A Vandergrift police officer said they had been called to 519 Burns St. earlier in the evening for a man illegally burning boxes outside near the house. The man, who police would not immediately identify, was arrested when he became argumentative with police and for public drunkenness.

Police released the man after they say he sobered up. He was said to be in custody again for disorderly conduct as the houses burned, but had not immediately been charged in connection with the structure fire.

Grazulis said she was in her bedroom and heard explosions from next door at 519 Burns.

“I looked out the window and the whole side of my neighbor's house was in flames,” she said.

Doug Bruce, who lives at the corner of Burns and Holland streets, was getting water to his garden hose, which he was using to squirt water at his roof as embers from the inferno across Burns fell onto his home.

“I was wetting my own roof down. It was getting bad. I don't think they had enough water pressure,” Bruce said on the porch of his house, soaked from head to toe in near-freezing weather.

“I used my own hose,” he said. “There was a lot of embers flying on my roof. I was afraid it would keep hopping from one house to the next.”

Bruce said his wife had looked outside and saw the house across Burns engulfed in flames. “They just couldn't get enough water,” he said. “If they had more water, it wouldn't be so bad.”

Fire company chiefs were fighting the fire and were not available for comment at press time.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or
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