A building at the former Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette, vacant since it was shuttered in 2006, caught fire early this morning.
Jeannette fire department Capt. Chuck Miller said a passing Pennsylvania State Police trooper saw smoke coming out of the hospital's three-story stone house and called 911 just before 12:20 a.m.
Crews managed to get the fire under control by 3 a.m. and stayed on scene for another two hours.
Jeannette fire Chief Joe Matijevic said investigators from the state police fire marshal's office ruled the blaze arson this morning.
Capt. Miller said the building at the Westmoreland County hospital, a landmark-turned-eyesore along Route 30 that struggled for years with financial and regulatory problems, was already destroyed and deteriorated from years of being open to weather.
"The fire -- all it did was enhance the destruction," he said.
That state created a challenge for firefighters. Because the structure has been vacant for years, it's possibile it wasn't sound.
But once firefighters felt comfortable, Capt. Miller said, their first priority was to prevent the flames from spreading to the emergency room area, which they accomplished by trench-cutting the roof behind the stone house.
Capt. Miller said some people suggested letting the fire go.
"You just can't let a structure burn like that," he said. "That's not what the fire department does."
In late 2011, Jeannette officials and residents voiced concern about several fires at the hospital's cylindrical building and about its potential as a safety hazard after reports surfaced about biomedical waste in a former X-ray department.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1944 and on Twitter: @borntolede.