Man charged with arson after high-rise fire


SCRANTON (WOLF) -- Police and fire officials say a fire at a Scranton high-rise is a case of arson.

It happened around 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Mulberry Tower Apartments, which is caddy-corner from Scranton City Hall.

Lamont Wright, 22, set the fire inside his apartment on the fifth floor, according to Police Chief Carl Graziano.

The fire was in the bathroom, damaging the apartment and neighboring apartments, Mayor Bill Courtright said.

Water damage occurred on the fifth floor and below from fighting the fire, and firefighters also had to break some doors to make sure people were out on floors above that, Courtright said.

Hours after the fire, some residents remained in the community room and firefighters were still dealing with the situation.

Later, they decided that about 100 residents were to be displaced from the west wing because the power would shut off for safety, Fire Chief Pat DeSarno said.

As of 10 p.m., about 35 residents were en route to a shelter at United House, which is owned by the same company as Mulberry Tower, firefighters said.

The Elm Park United Methodist Church was also available if more than 50 residents required shelter, according to a fire official.

We saw some of the residents being taken away in Commonwealth Health Paratransit mini-buses.

Wright was arrested and booked in on Sunday evening, to be taken to the Lackawanna County Prison.

This is the second high-rise fire in less than a week, following the fire at Lincoln Plaza in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday that killed two residents.

This time, residents rushed down stairs for safety as firefighters went through the privately-owned building at Mulberry Tower Apartments.

"I heard the alarm go off and I looked out and there was this great big cloud of smoke," says tenant Carol Rodriguez, in between a few coughs. "I'm on the sixth floor and then the fire alarm went off and people were leaving. By the time I got out, there was smoke in the hallway, so the firemen had to come up and take us out the other exit."

The 12-story budiling has about 200 units and that meant a lot of people were trying to get out.

"I went to go down the exit, the one exit, and there was too much smoke, and so I couldn't go down. So, I went back to my apartment and they were helping the lady across the hall ou, and they helped me and a few other people out," says Rodriguez.

"The alarm's going off, so I'm going to see if they'll let me in the lobby because I am freezing. I've been out here for a few minutes," says Brenda Kille from the 11th floor. "When I got past six, going past six, it was a nasty smell."

"I just heard the alarm go off," says Joseph Alvert form the third floor. "I got myself and got out of there."

"The alarm kept going off and kept going off and kept going off and I'm thinking where is it coming from?" says Maureen Grego from the 11th floor. "The smoke kept coming higher and higher. It was coming thorugh my air-coniditioner and we opened the door and the smoke was just coming in. ...It got to the point where I couldn't breathe. I have asthma too."

Grego uses a wheelchair, but she had to get out of it and go slowly down the steps from the 11th floor.

"I had to do step-by-step and sit down on the step and use my friend's arm, Jennifer," says Grego.

"Took a long time to get down because you had to be patient for others," says friend Jennifer Jordan. "A lot of people had to leave their walkers and wheelchairs, so eventually we got down. The firefighters were very nice. They let me go back up when everything was contained. They let me go up in the elevator and get walkers for people and bring them down."

"The fire originated on the fifth floor," says Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright (D). "They evacuated most of the buidling. The fire was mostly contained on the west side of the building in one room, but there's heavy water damage on all the floors below the fifth floor, and there's some damage to doors on the floors above the fifth floor, because the fire department needed to get in there and break in to make sure they get everybody out."

Some residents were waiting in the community room. They are used to fire alarms, but they're usually nothing.

"They have them housed in a room over here, trying to keep them as comfortable as possible until we find out where they're going to put everybody," says Courtright.

"It damaged the one apartment pretty considerably, and the apartments to either side and everything below sustained a lot of water and smoke damage," says Fire Chief Pat DeSarno. "The fire floor's pretty damaged too by water, so right now, just to be safe, we have to cut power to the whole wing. So, we're about to evacuate half of this building."

About a dozen residents could be taken by Allied Services since they are clients there, while others would go to United House and Elm Park United Methodist Church, Coutright said.

No sprinklers were activated, DeSarno said.

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