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Local woman loses historic home in Mount Oliver fire

by on June 10, 2014 10:55 AM

MOUNT OLIVER — Sunday’s massive and fast-moving fire in Mount Oliver, Allegheny County, which destroyed or damaged about a dozen houses, caused some heartache for a local family.

Juel Ormsby, of Strongstown, owned the century-old cottage at 191 Ormsby Ave., Mount Oliver, immediately next door to the house at 193 Ormsby Ave., where fire officials believe Sunday’s blaze started. Ormsby said the two houses were only about 10 feet apart, and her cottage was one of the homes destroyed by the fire that displaced nearly 50 residents. The Allegheny County fire marshal is investigating the cause.

Ormsby bought the cottage when she was working in Pittsburgh and chose it partly for sentimental reasons. Her great-great-great grandfather was Oliver Ormsby, for whom Mount Oliver is named, she said.

Juel Ormsby’s two sons, Benjamin and Jed Miller, were the current residents of the cottage. Benjamin was at work and Jed, who is a student in Pittsburgh, was home in Strongstown for the weekend when the fire started.

When Benjamin learned his neighborhood was burning he left work and went home, but the cottage and other homes nearby were fully engulfed in flames.

“He couldn’t get close,” his mother said.

No fatalities or serious injuries were reported from the fire, which was brought under control by about 100 firefighters from several departments.

The cottage, completed in 1913, was built on a stone foundation.

“You could tell it was built with two hands. That was the charm of it,” Ormsby said, adding she had remodeled much of the cottage with her own two hands. It was one of four houses she has rehabilitated as a hobby over the years.

Her sons, she said, are mourning the loss of their home that was close to their work and school, and she is mourning the loss of the sweat equity she put into the home that had a historical connection to her ancestors. But, she added, they are thankful no one was hurt.

They hope to find another home in Mount Oliver for the brothers.

Local fire departments, Allegheny County agencies and neighbors are helping the displaced residents find temporary shelter and put their lives back together.

Everyone, especially Mount Oliver Borough officials, are very nice people, Ormsby said, and a special meeting was held Monday evening to help coordinate assistance efforts for the fire victims.

Her family’s experience this weekend prompted Ormsby to offer some advice: Be very careful with fire. One person’s carelessness with fire — especially in a community like Mount Oliver, where the homes are very close together, can affect many, many people, she said.

Randy Wells has been a reporter and staff writer at The Indiana Gazette since 1988. His regular assignments include coverage of the Indiana County commissioners, Indiana Borough council and the Marion Center Area School District. His email address is
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