Rustic Ridge homeowners whose houses were damaged by the house explosion could get tax relief

Aug. 26—Plum officials are notifying Rustic Ridge homeowners whose houses were substantially damaged by the house explosion there two weeks ago that they may be eligible for a significant reduction in their property assessment.

Plum officials are pointing to those homeowners to a Catastrophic Loss Application that is available from the Allegheny County Office of Property Assessments.

According to a release sent by Plum officials on Saturday, the county tax assessment office has notified them that this help is available to the affected property owners who have considerable damage.

"Under Pennsylvania law, catastrophic loss is any damage to a structure due to a fire or other natural disaster that results in real property value being diminished by 50% or more," borough officials said. "To qualify for a reduction in property assessment, the property owner must file an application within 6 months from the date that the catastrophic loss occurred, or within the remainder of the calendar year, whichever is longer."

The home of Paul and Heather Oravitz blew up on the morning of Aug. 12. They and four others in the house at the time — Michael Thomas, Kevin Sebunia, and father-and-son Casey and Keegan Clontz — were killed.

The houses on either side also were destroyed.

Ten other houses were so badly damaged they were declared uninhabitable. However, an unknown number of those may be able to be repaired and lived in again, as long as they are determined to be structurally safe.

The Andy Zarroli family got the go-ahead Thursday to be able to continue living in their house, although they're not sure that they will.

It's not immediately clear how many houses in the Rustic Ridge housing plan would be eligible for the assessment reduction.

As with any property tax assessment, calculating the property value and the loss does not include personal property, such as appliances and any objects damaged in the house.

Dave Williams is a Tribune-Review night editor. You can contact Dave at 724-226-4667 or