Philadelphia

Fire, Now Ice: Center City Apartment Fire

More than 100 firefighters dealt with dangerously cold temperatures and strong winds as they battled a massive fire at a Center City apartment building Tuesday night. That cold left icy conditions in the area Wednesday morning as police continued to block roads in the area. [[365881811, C]]

The four-alarm blaze started in the basement of an apartment building at 2122 Locust Street around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Flames spread to the roof of the building. Officials say 21 of the building's 22 units were occupied at the time. The residents were quickly evacuated.[[365843771, C]]

"I gathered whatever I could [and] quickly went outside," said Habib Bhatti, one of the residents. "As I was going there was smoke starting to build up on the lower floors. Then we got out. We could see smoke starting to come from one of the floors." 

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Officials say 120 firefighters in all responded to the scene. SkyForce10 was above the building as firefighters battled flames shooting through the roof.[[365838621, C]]

"We thought it was going to get under control but then it got worse and worse and they started to bring out more fire trucks," Bhatti said. "They told us to actually get back further because it seems like it's going to be a hard one to control."

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. No other injuries were reported.

Firefighters dealt with temperatures in the mid-20s and 20 mph wind gusts as they fought the flames. They were finally able to bring the blaze under control shortly before 7:45 p.m. Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said the harsh conditions made it challenging for crews to put out the flames.[[365864881, C]]

"Water lines freeze so now once you squirt water you have ice on the ground," Sawyer said. "We have to make sure we put salt on the ground for the ice so that members don't slip and fall. Then, if you don't keep the water flowing, your hose lines can freeze up also." 

Sawyer said an adjacent apartment building was also evacuated, though he doesn't believe flames spread to the structure.[[365954271, C]]

"The fire was contained to the original dwelling," Sawyer said. "The people [who] live in the adjacent apartment building should be able to get in once we determine there was no extension and its safe."

The Red Cross assisted the evacuated residents, setting up a shelter at Trinity Church at 22nd and Spruce streets.

While the fire is under control, crews remained at the scene throughout the night.

"We're going to have L&I (the Department of Licenses & Inspections) come out to make sure the building is safe," Sawyer said. "Once it's safe we can get inside and try to determine what the origin and cause is." 

Sawyer said he's unsure whether there were two fires in the apartment building or if one fire spread from the basement to the roof.

"We have to do an investigation," he said. "We can't start that investigation until the fire is completely out." 

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