Thick Smoke, Flames Shoot From West Philly Auto Body Shop Fire

Fire burns at large auto body shop at 59th and Irving streets in West Philly

What to Know

  • Thick smoke and flames could be seen shooting from an auto body shop that caught fire Monday morning.
  • The fire quickly spread to three alarms as about 125 firefighters battled the blaze for hours before getting it under control.
  • Students were nearby Sayre High School and a church day care were evacuated as a precaution.

A three-alarm fire tore through a West Philadelphia auto body shop Monday morning, sending thick smoke and large flames into the air, causing bricks to fall to the sidewalk below and forcing students from their nearby high school.

Firefighters urged people to avoid the area of 60th and Spruce streets after the fire began at ABM Automotive at 59th and Irving streets shortly after 10 a.m.

Thick black smoke, which could be seen for miles around, and shooting flames engulfed the auto garage as firefighters arrived minutes later. Around 10:30 a.m. a wall of the building collapsed onto cars parked outside. Another wall fell onto an adjacent home, Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said.

Fire engulfed a West Philadelphia auto body shop Monday morning, sending thick smoke and flames into the sky.

Thiel said they were being "extremely cautious" with the firefight due to the threat of further collapse.

Firefighters attacked the flames from the outside, after briefly entering the structure, as they poured water on the large building. They also doused surrounding homes in an attempt to prevent the fire from spreading.

The fire burned across the street from Sayre High School fields, but didn't appear to be spreading toward the school. At the request of the Philadelphia Fire Department, the School District of Philadelphia evacuated about 400 students to Andrew Hamilton School at 56th and Spruce streets.

Firefighters even parked a firetruck on the athletic field as they battled the flames. A total of around 125 firefighters responded, utilizing 51 different apparatus to battle the blaze, Thiel and the fire department said.

The nearby Tabernacle Lutheran Church day care was also safely evacuated, Thiel said.

And, students at W.C. Bryant Promise Academy, which is about five blocks away on Cedar Avenue, were dismissed early at 1 p.m. due to smoke that blew into the building, the school district said.

By 10:50 a.m., firefighters seemed to beat back some of the flames as they hit the fire from multiple sides with water. The massive firefight continued past 11:25 a.m. as firefighters hit the blaze at all angles.

It appeared that everyone made it out of the building and there were no immediate reports of injury, Thiel said around noon, while noting it would take some time still to bring the fire under control.

The fire was finally brought under control around 12:45 p.m., the fire department tweeted. Crews were still putting out hot spots Monday evening however.

The building appears to be in an L-shape, but the flames and smoke mostly came from the part of the building along 59th Street.

Thiel said that firefighters put themselves in harm's way to prevent the fire from spreading.

"If it weren't for our firefighters cutting off that fire spread, the fire could have gotten into adjacent residences and moved all the way down the block," Thiel said.

Before the fire was even brought under control, fire investigators, including the arson unit, were brought in to find a cause for the fire. This is part of normal procedure, Thiel said. 

A man who claims he used to store his car at the burning facility said that multiple cars are serviced and stored there. He told NBC10 his family stored more than five cars inside, including a 2013 Bentley that belonged to his brother who died last year.

"As you get older, you get wiser," the man said. "You can't cry over sentimental things. But my brother, that's something I can't get over. And I can't replace. Since he passed away, I haven't touched that car. Nobody touched the car. We just put it in the garage. And now this occurred."

The owner of the building, known as "Mr. Al," told NBC10 he tried his best to douse the flames himself at first.

"I went and got a fire extinguisher," he said. "I couldn't undersatnd why. I had two fire extinguishers and it wouldn't put it out."

The NBC10 Investigators uncovered past code violations against the auto body shop. Just a few weeks ago, Licenses and Inspections building inspectors cited the auto body shop for multiple violations, including using portable heaters and cooking equipment.

The property owners then had a month to fix those issues with L&I inspectors due to return in November.

A message left for the number listed for ABM Automotive has yet to be returned.

The NBC10 investigators discovered that city building inspectors were aware of code violations that posed a fire hazard at the West Philly auto shop that went up in flames on Monday. NBC10 investigative reporter Mitch Blacher has more.

SEPTA detoured its 21, 42 and 46 bus routes as firefighters worked to bring the fire under control.

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