The remains of two victims have been recovered from a burned out senior living community in West Chester Tuesday, five days after a massive fire broke out, officials said.
Special agents with the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) National Response Team, Pennsylvania State Police, and Chester County Fire Marshal’s office located the remains of the first victim inside the Barclay Friends Senior Center Tuesday morning. The second was found Tuesday afternoon.
With two found, two more people living at the senior community ravaged by a five-alarm inferno last week are still presumed dead.
Family members of all four victims had been notified, but the identities of those who were found was not released, officials said.
“The thoughts and prayers of the men and women of ATF are with the families of the victims during this difficult time. Their losses only strengthen our resolve to provide answers to them as a result of our investigation of this tragedy,” said Special Agent in Charge Donald Robinson.
Robinson is spearheading a team of more than 60 investigators.
Investigators continued to sift through the rubble of the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in an attempt to recover the rest of the remains.
A large crane and other excavating equipment was brought to the fire location as investigators also search for a cause of the fire.
The fire erupted shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday while most of the 137 residents were sleeping. The blaze started in the back of one of the buildings, ripped through the center and all the way to the ceiling, creating a "raging inferno," Hogan said.
Flames tore through the senior living community's personal care wing with such speed that hundreds of first responders rushed into the building without securing their breathing equipment.
Several firefighters described their helmets melting and cracking from the intense heat.
Most of the residents were bedridden or in wheelchairs. Senior home staff and outside neighbors rushed from room to room in the facility, wrapping residents in blankets and sweeping them out in to the frigid night in wheelchairs and even in beds.
One of the elderly women rescued is the Robinson's aunt. She is safe with relatives, but Robinson said it's a reminder of how many community members were touched by the fire.
“We’ve all got a piece of this,” he said. “We’re depending on each other and we will be here as long it takes to get some answers for the families."
Paramedics took 27 residents to nearby hospitals for treatment. Some of the injuries were described by authorities as "serious." Six residents are still hospitalized as of Tuesday night, authorities said.
Of those that were rescued without injury, 102 have been placed in other facilities and 31 have been taken in by family members.
The cause of the fire remains unclear. ATF investigators made attempts through the weekend to enter the destroyed wing, but their efforts were hampered by unsafe conditions and high winds Sunday.
Parts of the complex burned for more than 24 hours and unstable walls teetered over the scene.
Last year, state health officials cited Barclay Friends and its owner Kendal with fire safety violations, including a failure to maintain corridor smoke doors. The violations were recorded in the facility's nursing home section, which was not touched by fire.
A provisional license status for the nursing home was lifted in February following a new inspection, but at least one fire safety violation remained, state records showed.