Residents want inside fire-damaged apartments

February 15, 2011 7:54:08 AM PST
Former residents are demanding access to a West Philadelphia apartment building that was gutted by fire last month and may soon be demolished.

They had feared The Windemere Apartment building would be torn down on Monday after a large crane moved in, even though their belongings are still inside.

However, the foreman of a demolition crew on the scene says the work is on hold. This comes as City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell is going to court seeking block the demolition until dozens of tenants are allowed back in to salvage valuables.

"We have to take the next step in the legal process which is to file a temporary restraining order for these people to get their belongings and check for any animals that may still be there," said Blackwell.

The 5-alarm fire on January 10th gutted the giant complex, leaving 100 tenants homeless. Since then, they say, they have not been able to retrieve their belongings.

While the fire gutted most of the top few floors, the lower floors did not suffer any fire damage.

"We just want to go in and see if we can get our stuff. We're not asking for much, we just want to go in and get our valuables," said Dan Gerhart. "I'm a student at Penn. I spent hundreds of dollars on books."

Residents say they've been getting no answers from the city or the owners, David and Sam Ginsberg of New York. The Ginsbergs have already hired a demolition company to bring the building down.

The city says the building is in the hands of the owners. In a statement, the city told Action News "The property owner controls the building. It's up to the owner to make any arrangements with the tenants. L&I declared the building imminently dangerous.

At least one former tenant has his own ideas as to what's going on.

"My belief is that they're trying to hide and cover up something," said community activist Horace Patterson. "It's unbelievable to me that the City of Philadelphia will allow this building to be torn down before we even know the cause of the fire.

Indeed, investigators still have not ruled on a cause of the fire more than one month after it happened.

Some former tenants told Action News over the weekend that looters have had no problem helping themselves to what's inside.