Fire crews from all over the Alle-Kiski Valley and beyond battled a four-alarm fire Tuesday at a swimming pool supply store in Harrison that forced the evacuation of some elderly people within a half-mile radius of the scene.
Harrison Hills Fire Chief James Bartolovich said there were concerns about chemical exposure coming from Country Pools & Spas, particularly chlorine fumes and forms of acid. Clouds of smoke covered large swaths of the sky.
There was someone working at the business at the time of the fire, Bartolovich said. That person escaped without injury.
Police at the scene said several firefighters were taken to a hospital after breathing in the chemicals as they fought the fire. Bartolovich was able to confirm at least one firefighter was transported from the scene due to inhalation issues.
Among the people who were evacuated were senior citizens living at Pine Ridge Apartments, which is just down Freeport Road. That’s on the other side of the Highlands Mall, which includes a Walmart and roughly 10 other stores. Stores in the strip shopping center remained open.
Citizens Hose Volunteers Fire Company served as a temporary shelter for some who were evacuated. They were being allowed to return to their residences just before 7 p.m. Other residents had been advised to shelter in place.
Allegheny County released a statement saying “there may be lingering odors in the immediate area of the fire building, but the site will continue to be monitored.”
Bartolovich said the addition of dry pool chemicals elevated the severity of the incident “because now you’re dealing with a hazardous materials incident” as well as a major fire. “Some of the chemicals can be dangerous when wet; they react differently and are volatile with water.”
In addition, there were two explosions, likely because of propane tanks, Bartolovich said.
The incident initially was reported as an electrical incident at 2:14 p.m. The building ultimately was leveled, its rubble still smoking hours later.
The Allegheny County fire marshal, a county hazardous materials team, representatives of the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Emergency Management Agency were on the scene.
Both lanes of Freeport Road in either direction has been shut down for close to six hours as the road was filled with fire trucks from numerous municipalities. All lanes were opened at about 8 p.m.
Fire at Country Pools in Harrison pic.twitter.com/4ip59nYkDj
— Louis B. Ruediger (@RuedigerLouis) November 22, 2022
The chief said firefighters within 75 feet of the facility went through a decontamination process to clean their gear and ensure their safety. They also had a brief stint in a rehabilitation area before being released.
“It’s a devastating loss to people in the area because they do use them for pool supplies and …….