Many African Americans still displaced after De Ruad St. Apartments fire

FIREFIGHTERS on the scene of a fire that has displaced 74 residents of the De Ruad Street Apartments in Uptown. The fire occurred Aug. 17. (Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Public Safety)

by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer

Seventy-four people, many of whom are African American, are still displaced from their homes after a five-alarm fire this past Saturday, Aug. 17, at the De Ruad Street Apartments in Uptown.

The fire began around 2:30 p.m., as residents hurriedly left the apartment and made sure no one else was left inside.

City of Pittsburgh fire investigators determined Monday, Aug. 19, that a 6-year-old boy was playing with matches when the fire began in a laundry room in the building’s second floor. Police officials said the 6-year-old admitted to playing with the matches, but the boy’s mother refuted the police statement, telling WPXI-TV (Channel 11) on Aug. 19 that she doesn’t believe her son started the fire.

No charges will be filed against the child or his family.

“The boy and his family have been referred to the County Child Line where they will direct them toward any available services and provide the child with the help he needs,” Pittsburgh Police said in an Aug. 19 statement.

The De Ruad Street Apartments is one of the first apartment buildings you’ll see along Fifth Avenue in Uptown after passing the Birmingham Bridge, heading towards Downtown.

“I heard the neighbor in apartment two screaming, ‘everybody get out, everybody get out!’ I said, what’s wrong? She said, ‘it’s a fire,’ so we started knocking on the tenants’ doors getting everybody out,” said De Ruad Street Apartments resident Mischelle McMillan to KDKA-TV (Channel 2). “By the time we got everybody out, what you see right there, that’s what was coming out of the building.”

Thick black smoke could be seen for miles coming from the roof area of the apartment building. Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Chief Darryl Jones called it a very “stubborn” fire in a “very large and old building.”

The fire actually rekindled the following day, Sunday, Aug. 18, and firefighters were again called to the scene.

The building is now condemned, with yellow police tape blocking the entrances.

While most of the residents who live at the apartment building were able to find temporary housing with family and friends, other residents were given temporary housing at other locations within and outside city limits, and roughly 25 residents took shelter at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, thanks to the American Red Cross.

Lara Washington, CEO of the Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Company (AHRCO), which operates the De Ruad Apartments, said in an Aug. 19 statement that they “remain first and foremost concerned about the well-being of all our residents. We are working closely with local authorities, HUD, social service agencies and retail stores to help residents who lost everything in the fire.”

Washington said AHRCO will assist each resident “with a permanent housing solution.”

Washington said that any organizations wishing to assist residents with new clothing items, new or gently used household goods, or gift cards should call 412-894-8988.

“Thanks to the Creator and speedy, professional response from our first responders there was no loss of life,” state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, said in a statement posted to his Facebook page, Aug. 18. “However, they are in need of more than our prayers. I have spoken to a representative for the families and they are still trying to get situated but we have to wrap our arms around these families and make sure they are supported through this tragedy with as much comfort and ease as we can provide.”


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