Man Charged with Starting House Fire in Etna, PA

June 13, 2024
The garage door blew off and cracked the windshield of a ladder truck, Millvale Fire Chief Karl Cavanaugh said.

Editor's Note: A garage door was blown off and struck the windshield on the officer's side of a Millvale Volunteer Fire Company ladder truck. The driver, who was standing at the front bumper, ran when he heard the blast and escaped injury, Millvale Fire Chief Karl Cavanaugh said. 


Megan Guza

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Jun. 12—A fire that tore through multiple properties in Etna Tuesday was allegedly set by one of the men living there, according to charges filed Wednesday.

Elmer Lewis, 74, is charged with multiple counts of arson and criminal mischief in connection with the blaze, which injured one resident and one firefighter.

Two properties were involved, including a two-unit home at the westernmost end of Vilsack Street. The other was a freestanding house atop several garages that was next door to the two-unit building. The same landlord owns all of the properties involved, police said.

Lewis lived in one of the rental units, and two of the three tenants in the other unit were home at the time of the fire.

One of those tenants told investigators he began to smell gasoline around 11:30 a.m. and thought the odor might be spreading, according to the criminal complaint against Lewis. He said he had just headed toward his back porch when he heard an explosion.

The tenant said he looked out of his front window and saw the other half of the building on fire, according to the complaint. He said he went to Lewis' door and kicked it in, at which point, he said, Lewis walked out quietly, retrieved his dog from his car, and started walking away.

A witness told police Lewis admitted he started the fire, commenting that "the landlord has been screwing with me." Lewis allegedly remarked several times in an interview with police that he was the one who set the fire. He produced a receipt for the gasoline that he said he bought at a 7-Eleven on Mount Royal Boulevard.

Investigators said an arson dog detected accelerants on the first floor of Lewis' unit near the stairs to the second floor. The dog also detected an accelerant in a garage next door that was also rented by Lewis. The fire inside the garage blew off the garage door, which shattered the windshield of a responding fire truck.

Lewis' neighbor was burned on his arm when he kicked in Lewis' door, and one firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion.

Lewis was being held without bail Wednesday, with a district judge calling him a "threat to victim, witnesses and community" in court records. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 20.


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