3 houses destroyed as low water pressure impedes Vandergrift fire crew

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Low water pressure from an aging infrastructure of pipes in Vandergrift made it impossible for firefighters to save three houses and a garage in a Friday night fire, an official said Saturday.

The fires destroyed the homes of five adults and two children.

Steve Potoka, chief of Vandergrift No. 2 Fire Department, said that even with three aerial trucks and five pumper trucks called to 519 Burns St., "we were stuck right off at the beginning."

The first trucks arrived "within minutes" of being called to the scene after 10:30 p.m., Chief Potoka said, "and by then two houses were already burned to the ground."

A broken hydrant near the homes yielded no water, so pumper trucks were deployed to different hydrants to tap into the water supply. Since the municipality's water runs on a loop system, if one hydrant is broken, others will possibly fail, too.

During the four hours it took to put the fire out, trucks with water tanks were used to hose down the two homes and keep the fire from spreading to a third home, but it was destroyed as well.

Two other houses had water damage. The houses, in a wooded area, were only a few feet apart.

The families living in the homes are staying with friends and relatives, Chief Potoka said.

Officials at the Westmoreland County Municipal Water Authority could not be reached for comment.

Chief Potoka said the municipal authority installed a new 36-inch water pipe at the top of Hancock Avenue in Vandergrift five years ago.

But the fire was on the other end of town, he said, at the end of the system's loop, and the pressure was simply too low to effectively tap fire company hoses into the water system.

Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1949 or Twitter: @MackenziePG.

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