UPDATE, 9:28 a.m.: Anyone with vehicles parked on Snyder Avenue between Broad Street and 13th is urged to move cars immediately so they won't be towed. Philadelphia Gas Works crews are at the scene investigating a possible gas leak and need the block cleared, officials said.
An early morning fire that tore through a building under construction and spread to several rowhouses in South Philadelphia is being investigated as a possible arson, authorities said.
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Police are searching for two men possibly connected to the fire Sunday morning after a witness reported seeing two men at the scene just before the flames erupted.
Firefighters were called to the blaze, which officials said was initially reported as a trash fire, around 3 a.m. Video from the scene early Sunday morning showed heavy flames and smoke coming from the building, which is a mixed-use apartment and retail site under construction, near Snyder Avenue and Juniper Street.
Fire officials and police at the scene told NBC10's Jesse Gary that the blaze is being investigated as a possible arson. It reached three alarms and took firefighters an hour and 45 minutes to bring under control, and they remained at the scene putting water on the building after 6 a.m. Shortly after 7 a.m., the flames were doused, and firefighters began removing equipment from the scene.
A man who was near the building at the time told NBC10 that just before the blaze erupted, he saw two men near the building where it started.
"I seen a guy with a hoodie ... and another gentleman on the roof," Barry Ippolito, who spoke with investigators Sunday morning, told Jesse Gary. "About five minutes later, I seen the guy with the hoodie come running out ... and about two minutes after he ran, boom, a huge explosion, debris and stuff everywhere."
At least four rowhouses adjacent to the building were damaged, and the entire block of Snyder Avenue was evacuated, officials said. The 17 people -- 15 adults and two kids -- displaced by the fire were given shelter first at South Philadelphia High School and then moved to the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts on Broad Street near Christian, because PECO cut power to the area of South Philadelphia High.
No injuries were reported early Sunday morning as crews remained at the scene cleaning up in the wake of the blaze. PECO and Philadelphia Gas Works officials were working to decide when it would be safe to restore service to the area.
The first suspect is described as a slim man standing 5-foot-8 wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. The second suspect is described as a man standing 5-foot-4 and weighing 150 pounds with bushy, curly hair and a black goatee wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and jeans.