An electrical fire sparked by the service line outside a house - then spread by the wind to an apartment building next door - left about seven people homeless before noon Monday, according to city Fire Department officials.
A neighbor roused the occupants of both structures, which are on the 300 block of 11th Street, likely saving lives, according to Gene Horton, who lives in one of two apartments rendered uninhabitable.
The fire caused between $10,000 and $15,000 damage to each structure, both of which are repairable, according to Deputy Chief Mike Tofano.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Mike Suloff, owner of 308 11th St., Altoona, cleans up after the Monday morning house fire.
The fire may have started because of the wind, said Fire Chief Tim Hileman.
Most of the damage to the house was external, he said.
Its siding on the side where the fire began was in ribbons afterward.
Most of the damage to the four-unit apartment building was internal, Hileman said.
Horton, who had been sleeping, because he worked the night before, heard a loud bang, but ignored it, he said.
Kathy Houck, who lives with him in the second-floor apartment, also ignored it, thinking it came from a communications building across the street.
The neighbor pounded on the apartment building door to alert them, they said.
Houck saw "sparkling" from the service line of the house next door.
After Horton got out, he tried to return to save two cats that lived in their apartment.
Hileman said he had to forcibly restrain Horton, while reassuring him the cats were safely in the apartment bathroom.
The first-floor apartment was "toast," and will need to be completely rebuilt, said apartment building owner Paul Dey.
The second-floor unit was not as badly damaged and should be repaired within a month, Dey estimated.
The service line - below the "weather head" that receives power from outside - is the homeowner's responsibility, according to Tofano.
None of the people involved in the fires have insurance, Tofano said.
"How's that for an out-of-pocket mess?" Dey asked rhetorically.
Tracy St. Croix, a renter with two young children, will stay with family, according to Tofano.
The residents of the apartment building will stay in hotel rooms provided by Red Cross, he said.
The Salvation Army helped at the scene.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.