Vince Lattanzio

Raging 5-Alarm Inferno Engulfs Defunct Factory in North Philadelphia

A massive wind-fanned five-alarm fire consumed a large industrial building in North Philadelphia on Friday evening. The blaze was so intense it forced officials to dispatch most of the city's firefighters to beat down the inferno.

Huge flames shot from the roof and windows of the 332,600-square-foot brick structure at N. 21st and W. Clearfield streets. Walls of the building, which spans nearly a city block and stood five stories, collapsed to the street below — taking down live power lines in the process. Thick, black smoke was seen for miles.

Firefighters shot water from ladder trucks and the roofs of nearby businesses, but kept their distance because of flying debris and those downed power lines.

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said more than 200 firefighters and paramedics were called to the scene. That represents a majority of the department's on-duty staff. Thiel said off-duty firefighters were called in to protect the rest of the city.

The fire consumed the historic manufacturing facility at 21st and West Clearfield streets Friday night.

The fire spread to nearby buildings with the help of northeasterly 16 mph winds. Flying embers sparked a fire at a nearby church at N. 22nd and W. Indiana streets. Those fires were quickly extinguished by crews at the scene, Thiel said.

"There were a couple times during this where we weren't sure where this fire was going to stop," Thiel said.

No homes have been evacuated, but several streets were closed as a precaution. Amtrak and SEPTA regional rail lines that on tracks run near the structure were not affected.

More than three hours after it started burning, the fire was placed under control just after 9 p.m. Thiel said the fire is still burning and will likely continue to smolder through Saturday.

"We're going to have our more than 200 firefighters working all night," Thiel said.

Philadelphia Police's Tactical Air Unit is using an infrared camera onboard its helicopter to find and relay the location of hot spots to firefighters.

The building formerly housed the Steele Heddle Manufacturing Complex which manufactured textile loom accessories. The business shutdown in 1983. In 2010, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The property was sold in 2007 for $1 to AM8 Group Steel Heddle, city records show.

Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections listed the building as imminently dangerous dating back to March 2015, city records say. Inspectors listed loose walls and missing bricks as the reason for the status. The case was closed this March.

Still, the city lists the building as sealed and structurally compromised.

The Fire Marshal has already begun investigating the cause of the fire, but Thiel said it will be some time before they're able to enter the unstable structure to search for evidence.

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