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Penn Hills Officials, Gas Company At Odds After Massive Gas Line-Fueled Blaze At Shopping Plaza

PENN HILLS, Pa. (KDKA) -- Leaders want to know why it took nearly five hours for the gas to get shut off during a Churchhill Center fire in Penn Hills.

The fire, along Pennoak Drive, had crews on the scene for more than 12 hours fighting the blaze, which broke out around 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

The plaza houses four businesses, including Eagle Rental, Cefolo's Cleaners, Don's Services and Big Shot Bob's House of Wings.

"It's not acceptable," Penn Hills Manager Scott Andrejchak said. "Penn Hills is furious. Clearly, there's a problem when they were told by the fire marshal to shut the main off and they refused to do it."

Chad Fischer watched helplessly as the flames shot from Eagle Rental for hours, fed by an uncapped gas line.

"It seems like some things could have been saved had there been a proper way to shut the gas off," Fischer said.

Eagle Rental lost its entire inventory, but they have software backups and other locations to work out of until they can find another location in this area.

On the other end of the building, Disability Options Network — which provides services for the disabled that allows them to stay in their homes — lost everything.

The company's 10 employees will work out of other branches until a new Penn Hills location is found.

WATCH: A live report from KDKA's Rachele Mongiovi on how Penn Hill's officials are feeling

"It's devastating," Disability Options Network Manager Kevin Huwe said. "I was here last night when it was happening. They just couldn't put it out."

Firefighters said the blaze was manageable when they arrived, but the continual feed of gas fed the flames.

People's Gas arrived on the scene and quickly shut off two of the three gas lines, but the third continued to flow.

"You had an explosion in there," Penn Hills Fire Chief Bill Jeffcoat said. "You had cinder blocks that were pushed 75 to 100 feet away from the building. It could have been avoided."

Four firefighters were injured in the blast, while three more were overcome by heat and smoke. All the firefighters were treated and released.

People's Gas said the gas line was improperly marked as a water line and it took a while to figure that out. Once they did, the cutoff was further hampered because the valve was under the bumper of a fire truck and water was running four to five inches deep, the company said.

Jeffcoat disputes that gas company's comments and said the truck would have been moved if the gas company asked.

"That wasn't the case," Jeffcoat said. "It just took them four hours to find something that was right in front of them the whole entire time."

Five hours after the fire started, the gas flow was stopped. Andrejchak wants the state PUC to investigate.

"It absolutely shouldn't happen again and shouldn't happen anywhere," Andrejchak said. "We're only fortunate there wasn't a loss of life last night."

The building is a total loss. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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