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A resident of a five-unit apartment house that was destroyed by fire last week has been charged with intentionally setting the blaze, according to Allegheny County Police.
Investigators have issued an arrest warrant for Michael Holleran, 44, who is accused of setting fire to the apartment house along Grant Avenue on July 24 by dousing used alcohol wipes with gasoline and igniting them, according to a criminal complaint.
Police charged Holleran with seven counts of arson and five counts of criminal mischief, all felonies.
Holleran — who allegedly told police that he has a long history of illegal drug use and currently is using heroin — said he uses the wipes “to treat parasites” and tried to dispose of them by setting them on fire, the complaint said.
On the day of the fire, Holleran allegedly used several wipes on his feet before placing them in an ashtray on the living room floor and lighting them on fire, police said.
Arson investigators ruled out “all natural causes” for the fire and recovered evidence that points to an accelerant being used to ignite the flames, according to court records.
According to the complaint, Holleran told police that he “treated the parasite by soaking his feet in Epsom Salt water and then wiping his feet with alcohol wipes. Holleran then placed these used wipes in an ashtray that sat on the floor of his living room. He then poured gasoline on them and set them on fire.”
When he was unable to extinguish the fire with water, he fled the apartment and helped another resident in the building escape, according to the complaint.
Meredith English, who lives on the third floor, told the Tribune-Review that he didn’t know the building was on fire until the first-floor resident broke through his door and helped him to safety.
The fire caused an estimated $250,000 in damage and displaced five residents, according to authorities. A number of firefighters suffered heat exhaustion, including two who were transported to a hospital for treatment.
During a second interview at a local motel on July 27, Holleran allegedly told police that at least 10 times in the past — including on the day the house caught fire — he tried to rid his apartment of worms by pouring puddles of gasoline on the floor, lighting them and then stamping them out with a wet mop.
He told police that when he does that, he can “hear the worms screaming as they burn,” according to the criminal complaint.
“This method is how he ensures the worms have died, which provide him with relief,” the complaint reads.
Mike Kutschbach, who lives next door to the burned-out building, described a recent conversation with Holleran.
“He stopped over to talk recently and the whole time he was scratching at his arms and I could see that he had already scratched up his face pretty good. He told me he was scratching because there were worms under his skin. He said he planned to use a power washer on the inside of the apartment to try to get rid of them,” Kutschbach said.
“Mike seems like a nice guy, but I think he has some serious problems.”
Holleran does not have an attorney listed in court documents.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, [email protected] or via Twitter .
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