A multimillion-dollar fire spawned by lightning is being blamed for destroying about three-quarters of the 55 apartments in the independent-living quarters at Laurel View Village on Tuesday.

The fire was reported just before 4 p.m. after a bolt of lightning struck the two-story wing of the complex, prompting the evacuation of more than 100 residents and employees.

No injuries were reported.

Firefighters battling the blaze were hampered by poor water pressure, a situation that David Mishler, the facility’s administrator, said will be investigated.

Mishler said lightning struck the attic in the middle of the apartment wing. He said there were sprinklers in each of the dwellings but that that attic was not equipped with them.

He said residents of that wing first were evacuated to another part of the facility. When it became apparent that the fire was not going to be confined easily, all residents were evacuated, including those in the nursing and personal-care wings.

About 70 residents live in the destroyed apartment wing. Another 57 live in the nursing wing and 60 in personal care, Mishler said.

Independent-living residents were taken to area shelters at St. David’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Davidsville, Kaufman Mennonite Church near Hollsopple and Conemaugh Township Emergency Medical Services building near Tire Hill.

Memorial Medical Center offered Laurel View the use of 60 beds for nursing and personal-care residents and Windber Medical Center, 40 beds.

Laurel View employee Jen Reese didn’t worry too much about smoke in the hallway as the kitchen staff prepared to serve a meal.

“We were helping people out,” she said. “We were walking them down the steps and helping firefighters carry equipment.”

When she left about 5:50 p.m., about three-quarters of the building appeared to be destroyed.

“You just saw sparks and flames,” she said. “I felt so bad for the residents we were helping to leave. It was their home.”

Mishler said the staff of the facility did a fine job evacuating residents and noted that off-duty staff members came to help.

Conemaugh Township fire Chief Tim Bowman said that about 75 percent to 80 percent of the independent-living quarters was destroyed and that there was heavy fire and smoke when firefighters arrived.

About 150 to 200 firefighters from numerous companies battled the roaring blaze.

Laurel View employee Brandon Nolan said the smoke drove employees to a lobby. He was outside when he saw flames eat through the left wing of the apartments, which are adjacent to the personal-care and health-care centers. From 100 yards away, he said, he could feel the heat against his face as though he were standing next to a bonfire.

“There was a hole where you could see flames slowly start to build up,” he said. That’s when he knew this was no minor incident, or one of the monthly fire drills.

Residents Gladys and George Bowser said they heard the clap of thunder and flash of lighting.

“I mentioned that they both happened at the same time,” Gladys Bowser said. The couple, who lived in the personal-care center, were watching television, awaiting supper. About 15 minutes later, employees started clearing the building.

“They came and told us to grab a coat,” Bowser said. “I was just praying that everybody was all right.”

Donald Hayes, who lives along Carpenter Park Road near Laurel View, said he and his wife were just coming home when they heard a loud clap of thunder.

Hayes’ neighbor Bill Layton said that, when he heard the thunder, he looked toward Laurel View and saw black smoke coming from the roof. “You could hear (the lightning) hit.”

At the facility’s most recent inspection June 5, three fire-safety deficiencies were found at the nursing home. That’s below the state and national average of four deficiencies for nursing homes, the state Department of Health reports on its Web site.

Inspectors identified problem areas with cooking area protections, wiring and access to emergency exits. All deficiencies were listed at the lowest level of potential harm.

Staff writers Kecia Bal and Randy Griffith contributed to this story.

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