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Community Helping 30 Families Who Lost Apartments In Penn Hills Fire

PENN HILLS, Pa. (KDKA) - People in the Penn Hills community and beyond are generously helping 30 families who lost their homes when the Rodi Arms Apartments caught fire on Saturday morning.

The 66 tenants got out with just the clothes on their backs. Some weren't even wearing shoes.

"I'm thankful for my life, I'm thankful for everybody else's life," Edna Graham said.

Graham is feeling blessed Monday. She said her emotional support dog named Diva woke her up and alerted her when the apartment building was on fire.

"I have a really high bed and she cannot jump on my bed and she frantically, frantically, pulled the covers, bit, screamed, scratched, whatever she could do to tell me 'you need to get out,'" Graham said.

Sixty-six people, 10 of which are children, have to start from scratch.

On Monday, some tenants went inside the charred building to grab whatever they could salvage.

"The sad part is we had to sit there and watch our life, not our life, but our belongings go away. That was the hardest," she said.

The American Red Cross Greater Pennsylvania Region provided food, shelter and medical needs to the families over the weekend. Many of the families are now scrambling to figure out where they will sleep next.

The community is delivering some hope. There is already a room full of donations at the Western Pennsylvania Search and Rescue Development Center in Penn Hills.

"It makes you feel amazing just to see that the community has rallied and it's not just our local community, it's from all over Pennsylvania, people that are coming and dropping off donations, every minute, we've had a line out front," said Matt Mitcheltree, sales and marketing director at Western Pennsylvania Search and Rescue Development Center.

They have collected a lot of clothing and furniture. They still need more hygiene products, over-the-counter medications and money. He said that the money will go towards housing for the families.

"They're drained physically, emotionally. They're trying to figure out how they are going to move forward," Mitcheltree said.

The generosity is helping the families take it one day at a time.

"Where are we going to take the stuff to? We don't have anywhere to take the stuff to but it's a blessing, everyone, this community really stepped up for this one," Graham said.

Penn Hills Fire Marshal Chuck Miller said a tenant who was cooking on a stove fell asleep and a fire started. He said firefighters put the main fire out then found out there was an extension into the attic.

The fire marshal said there was a history of code violations involving the fire alarm system at the apartment building. He said the landlord would correct the issue but there would recurring issues months later. However, he believes the alarm system was working properly Saturday morning.

Donations can be dropped off at Western Pennsylvania Search and Rescue Development Center at 1405 Frey Road on Tuesday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Donations are also being accepted on their website.

Anyone without a home due to the fire can contact the Allegheny County Housing Authority for assistance at 412-823-8009. There is a new building in Wilmerding that has availability for seniors. People under 62 can be added to a waiting list for other buildings. Penn Hills police said for assistance with other needs, people can call 1-800-862-6783; there are volunteers ready to help.

The American Red Cross Greater Pennsylvania has done a lot to help the families. The disaster action team members were dispatched to the scene of the fire early Saturday morning. They wrote in a post on Facebook this weekend, "We are ensuring everyone has a safe place to sleep, food to eat, and meeting any medical needs they have after being unexpectedly displaced from their homes overnight."

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