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Fire chief faults utility in shopping center blaze

July 29, 2019
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A firefighter walks along Pennoak Drive past the burned out scene of the Churchill Center shopping center, Monday, July 29, 2019, in Penn Hills, Pa. Authorities in western Pennsylvania say a large fire that started on Sunday, July 28, at the shopping center near Pittsburgh destroyed several businesses and injured a number of firefighters. (Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)
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A firefighter walks along Pennoak Drive past the burned out scene of the Churchill Center shopping center, Monday, July 29, 2019, in Penn Hills, Pa. Authorities in western Pennsylvania say a large fire that started on Sunday, July 28, at the shopping center near Pittsburgh destroyed several businesses and injured a number of firefighters. (Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

PENN HILLS, Pa. (AP) — Officials in a Pittsburgh suburb on Monday faulted a utility company’s response to a shopping center fire that destroyed several businesses and injured a number of firefighters.

Chief Bill Jeffcoats of the Penn Hills fire department said it took Peoples Natural Gas about five hours to shut off gas service after the blaze at Churchill Center was reported at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

“There’s no amount of water we could put on the fire when it’s fed by natural gas,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Peoples Natural Gas community affairs director Barry Kukovich said in a statement Monday that an “investigation into if and how natural gas was related is ongoing.” Two of the three lines were shut down shortly after utility workers arrived, he said.

“The third shut-off was more difficult to locate, and once located, the work to eventually shut off the line was complicated and delayed as a result of the extensive amount of emergency equipment and the significant amount of water used to the fight the fire that was streaming over the area,” he said.

Fire Marshal Chuck Miller said four firefighters were hurt when an explosion occurred, and a fifth was taken to a hospital for severe heat exhaustion. A dozen other firefighters were treated at the scene for heat exhaustion and other injuries, he said. No life-threatening injuries were reported.

Penn Hills Manager Scott Andrejchak blamed the utility’s response for the extent of the damage, estimated by the fire marshal to total $1.2 million to $1.5 million. The center housed a restaurant, an electronics and furniture rental business, disability services firm and a dry-cleaning company.

“I think it’s a complete insult to everyone involved with the situation,” he said. “We’re lucky we didn’t have the loss of life. I think they owe a big explanation.”

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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A firefighter walks along Pennoak Drive past the burned out scene of the Churchill Center shopping center, Monday, July 29, 2019, in Penn Hills, Pa. Authorities in western Pennsylvania say a large fire that started on Sunday, July 28, at the shopping center near Pittsburgh destroyed several businesses and injured a number of firefighters. (Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)