1 dies in 7-alarm fire in downtown high-rise

PITTSBURGH — One person died early Monday morning after flames surged out the windows of a downtown high-rise apartment building, forcing hundreds of people into the street.

The medical examiner identified the victim as 75-year-old Mary Robinson. Fire Chief Darryl Jones said three firefighters suffered minor injuries. Two residents were also checked out and are OK.

Flames were shooting out of two windows in the 17-story Midtown Towers in the 600 block of Liberty Avenue, at the intersection with Seventh Street. Passersby called 911 at 3:02 a.m. after seeing the flames.

The fire began on the sixth floor, inside the apartment where Robinson was found dead, and moved to the seventh floor, said Pittsburgh public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler. Firefighters moved for hours through the building, which sustained heavy damage on those floors, looking for residents who might not have evacuated. At least 100 firefighters responded.

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Two firefighters called mayday when they became trapped on two separate floors. Firefighters trained to help in such a situation went into the building to get them out.

“A lot of times, like I said, we don't have that happen very often, so they're usually standing around while the other guys are fighting the fire. This time they had to go into action. We hope they're always standing around while the other guys are fighting the fire. Thank you,” Jones said.

The building did not have a sprinkler system, Jones said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Jones said additional units had to be called back to the scene around 7 a.m. after firefighters discovered "hidden fire" in the pipe chases between the seventh and 10th floors.

More than 100 people were in the building, Jones said. Many evacuees sought shelter in the lobby of the K&L Gates building across Liberty Avenue.

The American Red Cross later opened a shelter for evacuees at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, according to spokesman Dan Tobin.

Some residents of the building were able to get out on their own. Others needed assistance from first responders and neighbors. People who live at the Midtown Towers are not allowed back in yet as the investigation continues.