Smoking in or near a bed caused the fatal fire that erupted May 15 at Midtown Towers, Downtown, Pittsburgh fire Chief Darryl E. Jones said Wednesday.
Investigators believe Mary Louise Robinson, 75, had been smoking in her apartment on the sixth floor, Chief Jones said. She was the fire’s sole victim.
Three firefighters and two residents endured minor injuries from the fire, which began around 3 a.m. Tenants have relocated amid expected repairs at the 18-story, residential building at 643 Liberty Ave.
Chief Jones said the city fire bureau has concluded its investigation.
Woman killed in fatal fire at Midtown Towers 'was like a mother to everyone'
Handout: Verbal permission from her daughter to Sally Stapleto
May 20, 2017
LaRay Moton Robinson got a call from her brother shortly before 4 a.m. Monday and jumped out of bed.
Her brother, William, had fallen asleep with the television on and woke up to see news reports that their mother’s apartment building Downtown was on fire.
Ms. Robinson rushed over from her home in the Hill District — and had to park several blocks away because emergency workers had roped off the area. When she couldn’t find her mother among the evacuees, she approached a firefighter and asked him about the woman in apartment 606.
That’s when a group of people, including the city fire chief, asked her to step into an ambulance with them.
“When they told me, I just let out this scream,” Ms. Robinson said.
Her mother, Mary Louise Robinson, 75, died of heat exposure and smoke inhalation after a seven-alarm fire ravaged Midtown Towers on Liberty Avenue, an 18-story apartment building where Ms. Robinson’s mother lived for 24 years.
“She loved living there because it was so convenient for her,” her daughter said. “She could just hop on the bus anywhere and just go.”
Ms. Robinson said she spent most of the Sunday before -— Mother’s Day — with her mom before her grandson drove her home around midnight. She said she tried to persuade her mother to just stay the night with her at her home, but her mom always preferred to sleep in her own bed.
Investigators haven’t told her anything about how the fire was started, but Ms. Robinson said she was never worried about her mother’s safety while she lived there. She said it never crossed her mind that her mother’s apartment building didn’t have a sprinkler system.
Apparently the storage units, located in a different part of the building, did have sprinklers, she said. What her mother kept in there is all she’ll be able to salvage of her belongings.
“Her apartment was completely engulfed,” Ms. Robinson said.
Her mother worked for 35 years in food services at the University of Pittsburgh, she said. She tried unsuccessfully for years to persuade her to retire.
“She was one of the ones who didn’t let grass grow under her feet,” Ms. Robinson said. “She loved to get up and go.”
Her mother visited casinos all across the country throughout her lifetime, Ms. Robinson said. She loved to play slots, and she had just returned from a trip to check out a casino in Erie. Her mother was also an active member of the Bon Ami Temple No. 49 in East Pittsburgh.
She was born in Atlanta, but moved to Pittsburgh as a child, her daughter said. She graduated from Fifth Avenue High School.
She loved to spend time with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, her daughter said. They had frequent family cookouts and she would always go to her daughter’s house for dinner and to watch Steelers games with her great-grandson.
“She was like a mother to everyone,” Ms. Robinson said.
In addition to her daughter and son, Mrs. Robinson is survived by six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Samuel J. Jones Funeral Home.
The funeral is at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Calvary Baptist Church on Wylie Avenue.