Materials in a Philadelphia clothing store fed a blaze that destroyed a more than 100-year-old building, devastated a 60-year-old business and disrupted traffic in Old City Wednesday.
The Suit Corner store at 3rd and Market Streets ignited a few minutes after 9 a.m. on Wednesday. About 40 minutes later, a second alarm was raised as the store owner Gary Ginsberg watched his business become engulfed in flames.
"60 years in business," said Ginsberg before breaking down. "I just lost my mother like three weeks ago and now this is happening."
"It is a major catastrophe," he said while choking back tears. "This is the only thing I know how to do in life."
Ginsberg said he and his eight employees smelled smoke and discovered the fire around 9:05 a.m.
Two people grabbed extinquishers and sprayed the flames, which erupted suddenly in a window display near some electrical wiring, he added.
But their efforts weren't enough.
"Everyone got out of the store safely and then it just exploded like a big fire ball," Ginsberg said.
The first fire company arrived at 9:18 a.m. -- three minutes after receiving reports of smoke -- to find the flames already tore through the bottom three floors of the four-story building, according to Philadelphia Fire Dept. Chief Eric Fleming.
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“If the 4th and Arch [fire house] was open, they might have been here maybe a minute sooner," Fleming said. "However the conditions upon arrival, the fire had already gained significant headway and getting here a minute or two earlier would have made no difference in it being an extra-long fire."
Flames burst through the roof of the building and heavy smoke could be seen billowing from as far as 10 blocks away as 75 firefighters doused the blaze with water. Traffic was rerouted in the area as officials closed several Old City roads and SEPTA detoured several bus routes.
Officials reported the blaze under control at 10:37 a.m., but the blaze reignited around 12: 10 p.m. and crews could be seen soaking hot spots for at least another hour.
The building, which dates back to 1840, did not have any sprinklers since it was constructed before they were required, according to the city's Department of Licenses & Inspections.
Authorities reported one firefighter suffered a minor ankle injury battling the blaze after falling at the scene. The 41-year-old fireman was taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for treatment.
Hours later a second firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation, according to officials.
A tailor shop operates out of the brightly colored clothing store's second floor. The third and fourth floors were unoccupied.
The intense fire stunned nearby business owners, with several closing for the day while others remained open despite the clouds of smoke. At least one owner says she could feel the heat of the blaze from across the street.
“Just when I thought they got it out of control you could see flames coming on the second, and then the third," said Pat Hillman, who works at the Artist & Craftsman Supply at 307 Market St. "At one point I think I counted six or seven hoses on it.”
Hillman said firefighters did not evacuate her side of the street and that even with the chaos, she’s had customers. “I’ve had a couple of customers," she said. "People need their art supplies, what can I say?”
Suit Corner's sister store, The Shirt Corner, was located diagonally across the street and collapsed during a controlled demolition on March 13.