Pa. Firefighters Hurt in Fire Set By Homeless Man

June 25, 2013
A homeless man is a suspect in an arson fire that hurt three firefighters in Allegheny County Monday morning.

June 24--A homeless man who told investigators he is "fascinated by fire" has been charged with arson after he held open flames to a blanket, causing a blaze that injured three firefighters this morning in Etna, Allegheny County police said.

Alan M. Erb, 21, is in the Allegheny County Jail on charges of criminal trespass, arson (endangering property), criminal mischief, causing or risking catastrophe, three counts of arson (endangering persons) and three counts of recklessly endangering another person.

The three-count arson charge refers specifically to firefighters Todd Lunn, Josh Altamare and Russ Vaughn, who were injured in the fire, county police said.

Mr. Caughn and Mr. Altamare both suffered chest pain and were transported to Allegheny General Hospital. Mr. Lunn suffered an ankle injury, county police said.

The fire was reported at 1:24 a.m. at a vacant residence at 35 Vine Street.

Mr. Erb told detectives he had been squatting in the duplex alone for several nights, after a friend brought him there to hang out about a month ago, according to a county police criminal complaint. He has been homeless about a week, he said.

He told detectives that about 1 a.m., he entered the house through the garage and went to the second-floor living room, where he laid down on a couch and smoked eight cigarettes.

According to the complaint, he told police he flung lit cigarettes at the wall "just being curious" and "watching sparks fly." He then used two lighters to light a blanket on fire and watched it burn for about 30 to 45 seconds.

Mr. Erb told detectives the fire became too large to put out alone, so he left, paced back and forth outside. A witness told police Mr. Erb told him he had been inside, then ran.

Detectives said Mr. Erb told them he deliberately set the blanket on fire, but did not intend for the house to burn, they wrote in the complaint.

An investigator from the Allegheny County fire marshal's office determined the fire started in the second-floor living room near the couch, causing $50,000 in damage to the duplex, 33 and 35 Vine Street.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 11.

Molly Born: [email protected], 412-263-1944 and on Twitter: @borntolede.

Copyright 2013 - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!