A man claiming to hear voices set the fire that gutted and damaged five buildings in the mains business district of the poor Pittsburgh suburb of Homestead, police said.
Edward McDonald, 27, who lived in one of the apartments destroyed by Friday’s six-alarm blaze, is charged with more than a dozen counts of arson as well as risking a catastrophe.
McDonald told investigators that he started the blaze “in response to the voices in his head and as a way of dealing with the stress and torment he was feeling,” according to a criminal complaint.
Officials allege that he told investigators that he found a bag containing lighter fluid and paper in the alley next door and squirted the fluid on his couch, then remembered seeing a “lake of fire” in his apartment before he left the building.
Two people were taken to a hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, but no serious injuries were reported. The American Red Cross reported aiding eight people with food, clothing and shelter after the blaze in Homestead, a borough of 3,100 residents about six miles from downtown Pittsburgh.
Five buildings were affected and “probably three are total losses,” said Alvin Henderson, chief of Allegheny County emergency services.
Officials said McDonald told investigators that he is schizophrenic and had not taken his medication in a while, and neighbors told police they were aware of his problems.
One said McDonald was “worried about the end of the world and the Anti-Christ,” and another said he asked for earplugs because “These voices are so loud I’m going to kill myself,” authorities allege in the criminal complaint.
As he was being led away in handcuffs, a reporter asked whether he started the fire, and McDonald replied “Yeah, I guess I did.” He remains in Allegheny County jail unable to post $100,000 bond; court records don’t list an attorney for him.
Homestead Mayor Betty Esper said county officials are working with state and business officials to see whether low-interest loans or other aid can be provided to those affected.
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