Massive Fire Rips Through SW Philly Homes, Killing 4 Children

Four Weeks Later, Far From A Return to Normal on Gesner Street

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In the weeks since the Gesner Street fire, onlookers like these have stopped coming around.

    It is much quieter now on Gesner Street.

    For weeks the Southwest Philadelphia block was laden with clamor from police and fire vehicles, protesters, grievers, and visits from local celebrities and political leaders in the wake of the deadly July 5 fire that destroyed 8 homes, displaced 32 residents and killed 4 young children.

    Now, Gesner Street resident Peter Elpha said, "All of the noise is over."

    "All of the people that were coming to the street, where are they? They are not here. So, we the people who live on the block, have to take care of our business and pull it together," Elpha said.

    Neighbors who live alongside the fire damaged homes say they're still struggling to regain any sense of what used to be normal on their street.

    For Gesner Street resident Jenebu Sesay, 'pulling it together' has meant days spent moving mounds of personal items, clothing, furniture and toys that were ruined by water and smoke damage from her basement to the curb.

    "Last week my whole backyard was filled high with things. A lot of things were special to me. Most of our clothes, everything is spoiled," she said.

    Sesay, who is currently living in a hotel while she and her daughter look for a new residence, said coming back to the place she once called home is now an eerie experience.

     "It's scary. Sometime when I come here I don't want to go outside," she said.

    Gesner Street resident Jackie McFadden described the block as a once vibrant place, where it was common to see neighbors sitting out on their porches and children playing along the sidewalks.

    "People usually would be out. The families and the kids used to be outside," McFadden said. "I guess they don't want to come out and see those houses like that."

    Elpha said he and a block captain are hoping to get people back outside enjoying their street again.

    "Most days in the summertime like this and on Saturdays and Sundays, the block captain would block off the street, open the fire hydrant and have everybody come out. He wants to try to revamp and do that again," he said.

    The fate of the eight charred homes is still unknown.

    On Thursday, Department of License and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams and Chief of L&I's Emergency Services and Abatement Unit Scott Mulderig were in back-to-back meetings discussing whether the homes should be razed.

    Residents say they're hoping the homes get rehabbed instead of torn down.

    "It's going to look crazy if they tear it down and turn it into a yard or something. I don't want to see them taken down," McFadden said.

    "To have eight homes damaged on the block is no good," Elpha said. "I would like to see the block rebuilt and then maybe the street can come back to normal."