Three-Alarm Fire Ravages West Philadelphia Apartments, Displaces 100 Residents

The blaze forced some 100 people from their homes.

A three-alarm fire ravaged a West Philadelphia apartment building early Sunday morning, forcing more than 100 people from their homes.

"It was flaming. You could see the flames going up about 30 feet in the air," Saifur Chowdhury, who lives behind the building that burned, said. "It was scary for a moment."

The blaze erupted on the top floor of the four-story Netherlands apartment building, at 43rd and Chestnut streets, in the predawn hours, fire officials said. Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said at the scene that firefighters responded to the call for the fire at 4:49 a.m.

In all, they struck three alarms as flames tore through the top floor of the building, leading to a partial collapse and evacuations of more than 100 residents. More than 100 firefighters and 28 fire vehicles responded to the scene, Thiel said. They placed the fire under control about 6:15 a.m.

Despite what Thiel called "very tough firefighting conditions" caused by the heat and the construction of the apartment building, he said no one suffered serious injuries.

"This was one of the most incredible fire stops that I've ever seen," Thiel, a veteran firefighter who came to Philadelphia recently to take the commissioner spot, said. "So far, we've had no injuries, no fatalities, we've had no injuries to our firefighters. Just an incredible job by all of our Philadelphia Fire Department firefighters, paramedics and all our city partners."

Thiel said the fire could have been much worse: He said crews managed to contain the flames to one building of the six-building complex.

The American Red Cross set up a reception center for people displaced by the fire at the nearby Penn-Alexander School at 42nd and Spruce streets. Thiel said some people would likely be let back into the building, but it was unclear early Sunday how many would be without homes.

Thiel said the fire ravaged the top floor of the building, leading the ceiling to partially collapse and wires to fall from above. Bricks fell off the back of the building. He said Licenses and Inspections workers were set to come check the building's structural integrity later Sunday morning.

The Red Paw Relief Team, which provides shelter for pets displaced by fires, said their crews rescued nine birds, two cats and some fish from the fire about 7:30 a.m. They remained at the scene awaiting word on any more pets.

Thiel said the cause of the fire was not known and that the fire marshal would investigate.

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