SHARPSVILLE, Pa. (WKBN) – Police arrested a suspect that they believe set fire to an apartment and business building in Sharpsville because she was being evicted.
Courtney Speir-Chrastina, 25, faces more than 70 counts of aggravated arson, recklessly endangering another person and causing catastrophe charges.
The fire broke out about 2:20 a.m. Thursday at the Trailblazer Building on West Ridge Avenue.
When firefighters arrived, the building was filling up with smoke. Crews had to go door to door to wake up residents and get them out.
“I ran out with this nightgown on, no shoes, my daughter had no shoes,” recalls Pam Cooper, who lived in the building.
The fire started on the first floor of the building, which years ago, was the local middle school. It was later converted to apartments and small business space.
Although alarms sounded, a number of residents like Cooper woke to the sound of firefighters beating on their doors.
“He told us to get ready and come out the door with him and that the building was on fire,” Cooper said.
She said getting out of the building was nothing short of terrifying.
“We were on our hands and knees, crawling out to the outside door, and it was just full of smoke. You couldn’t see your hands in front of you,” she said.
Many of the evacuees were shuttled to the Saint Bartholomew Community Center down the street. They praised the work of police and firefighters for getting them to safety.
“I can’t climb stairs, and they helped me climb the stairs to get out,” said Barbara Hoffman.
Hoffman is now worried about getting back inside to check on her belongings.
“I’ve got a little computer — desktop computer — in there, and my daughter’s got a brand-new bedroom set in there,” she said.
Although the fire was put out quickly and there was no structural damage to the building, there’s extensive smoke damage.
No injuries were reported, and the Red Cross is assisting displaced residents.
Speir-Chrastina is being held in the Mercer County Jail on $100,000 bond.
According to a criminal complaint, investigators determined that Speir-Chrastina set the fire after finding burn marks on the ground near the door of her apartment. They noted there was a strong odor of gasoline in the apartment, which was found to be vacant at the time of the fire.
Investigators also reported finding gas cans outside Speir-Chrastina’s apartment as well as a smoke alarm, which had been removed from her apartment.
They say she admitted to setting the fire because she was being evicted and she was frustrated about other circumstances, according to the criminal complaint.