Recent Local Fires & A Plan of Action

The recent fires in our area have been devastating.  As we watched Sarris Candies burn, our hearts melted along with all of the chocolates inside.  The iconic symbol of sweetness in Canonsburg was badly damaged.  A packaging area was destroyed and the public candy store and ice cream parlor is gone. It was still such a shock to see the place so many of us have visited billowing with smoke early in the morning.  200 people work at the specialty chocolate and candies company, which has been family-owned and operated for more than 50 years.  The best news is that no one was hurt and they will rebuild the damaged sections.

Then another community icon burned.  In North Versailles the Winchester Room, a landmark restaurant known for its steaks, caught fire and the flames gutted the restaurant on Lincoln Highway (Route 30) toward the end of lunchtime.  Thankfully no one was hurt but it was difficult not to get emotional as the owners tearfully talked to our news cameras as they watched the flames reduce their business to rubble.

“It’s my livelihood. It’s our business. Every day, we work for this. This is what we do for a living, this is our income,” owner Renee Salmon said. They have insurance and plan to rebuild as soon as possible.

Days later, the beautiful Nemacolin ski lodge caught fire as its Winterfest weekend was wrapping up. My kids and I were there that very morning enjoying the magnificent ice sculptures and the ice bar. We also had a great time tubing, too.   Here are some photos I took as snow fell all around us making it feel like a true winter wonderland. Ice carvers dazzled us with their frozen artwork. There was even an ice bar and tables for people to enjoy.  Nemacolin knows how to throw a party.

But just eight hours after we left, an employee spotted a fire and the grand wooden building was gone in a flash.  Firefighters arrived and said it was a losing battle from the start.  Fortunately, no one was hurt and none of the valuable art collection in the nearby hotel was damaged. My children and I were stunned when we saw the video! The ice sculptures were still there while the lodge behind it burned out of control.

In all three cases, investigators are still trying to determine the cause but everyone is thankful no one was hurt.

The losses of those community favorites don’t compare to the loss we have seen in recent house fires. The loss of life.  In Lawrence County, 41 year old Vaughnie-Sue Schwartz died along with her three dogs in Little Beaver Township.  In Fayette County,   78-year-old Arlene Ellsworth died when her house caught fire in Georges Township.  She was on her back porch close to safety after her kitchen caught fire while she was cooking but her family says she was afraid to jump.

In Pittsburgh’s friendship neighborhood, investigators believe a 6-year-old boy may have sparked a fire that killed two people.  The four-alarm fire started in the middle of the night inside a house that had been converted into apartments where seven people lived on South Graham Street.  Police said the boy lit something on fire in a second-floor apartment and threw it behind a couch, sparking the flames. A couple living in the third floor apartment couldn’t make it out.

My father recently asked me if I had smoke detectors. I do. On every level.  But then he asked if I had a strategy for getting out if my stairs were on fire.  I did not.  If the only way out of my home was burning I don’t know what I’d do.  That very day I ordered fire ladders for every bedroom.  We’ve gone over how to attach them to windows and let them drop down to climb out.  Hopefully, I will never have to use them.  Hopefully, they’ll stay in the closets and collect dust.  But I know I haven’t wasted my money because I’ll be able to sleep a little better just knowing they’re there.

It’s always hard to deliver bad news on television.  But it’s important everyone listen to know how to better protect themselves and their families. While the businesses have lost so much, they can rebuild. Sadly, for many families they cannot bring back what was lost. I hope that when we report on news of fires, viewers make a plan in their own homes on what to do in case there is an emergency in their homes.

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