Saturday, March 16, 2002
Fire Destroys Semple Street House
Fire ravaged a South Oakland home early Wednesday morning at 238 Semple Street. At approximately 1:53 a.m., the fire broke out and quickly spread, causing all tenants and guests to evacuate. The fire was large enough to necessitate the use of two separate fire companies.
The house was being rented by members of Pitt’s football team. At the time of the fire, the residents were all inside entertaining guests, including fellow students, members of the cheerleading squad, and sorority sisters. Various witnesses say the party was pretty tame, with casual drinking, dancing, and even some “stair diving” into a pool of beer. However, as guests noticed a curtain fire spreading across the room, they fled.
Firefighters from two local companies arrived shortly thereafter to combat the blaze while tenants and guests were safe in the front yard singing “our house, our house, our house is burning down.” The house could not be saved, leaving only the original brickwork standing.
University Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and head football Coach Walt Harris arrived as the firefighters were leaving the scene. One small fire was burning but remained contained as a lineman and two cheerleaders toasted marshmallows. When asked how the fire was started, tenant David Priestley stated, “faulty wiring, I guess.”
Reports of one guest blowing flames using a high-proof liquor could not be verified. Although neighbors reported hearing chants of "fireball, fireball, fireball!" moments before the fire began.
Coach Harris did add, “if my boys say it was faulty wiring, I gotta believe them.” While Priestley was overheard cautioning Nordenberg, "you know, Chancellor, the school should be more careful.”
No one was injured.