Grilling Mishap Leaves Dozens Homeless

Investigators say a grilling accident caused a massive Fourth of July fire at an apartment complex in State College that left dozens of people homeless.

Fire officials say it started when a resident was grilling on an upper floor patio on Thursday. Centre Region Fire Director Steve Bair says investigators are still working to determine exactly how the fire happened, but the blaze has been ruled an accident.

Firefighters rescued two people from a balcony during the fire, which began Thursday night. There were no injuries, and all residents were accounted for, Alpha Fire Company Chief Jeff Martin said.

The residents who were cooking were among those who called 911 when the blaze broke out at the Waupelani Heights apartment complex, not far from the Penn State campus.

Nineteen units were damaged or destroyed by the fire, leaving more than 40 people homeless.

Walter Jackson and his wife, young daughter and niece were at home in the State College building when the fire began and escaped with only the clothes on their backs.

"I smelled smoke, and two seconds later the alarm went off," Jackson told the Centre Daily Times. "My wife thought it wasn't serious, but I looked outside, and smoke was coming out of the top-floor window. I ran in and got them out and literally, as we were running out in under a minute, the whole thing went up. The whole roof was on fire."

Officials said about 40 firefighters fought the blaze.

Many of those displaced by the fire were university graduate students or researchers. Residents of at least 12 of the units were connected with the university and were offered temporary housing in campus dormitories.

The Red Cross helped the families involved with food, shelter and clothing.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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