Concerns of collapse follow 4-alarm Old City fire

Sarah Bloomquist Image
Monday, February 19, 2018
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Chestnut Street buildings to be demolished following fire: Sarah Bloomquist reports on Action News at 5 p.m., February 19, 2018

OLD CITY (WPVI) -- The ATF and other investigators were on the scene throughout the day Monday as they work to determine the cause of a massive 4-alarm fire that tore through the buildings on 200 block of Chestnut Street just a day prior.

All day, there's been concern that 239 Chestnut, where investigators believe the blaze started, might collapse.

Monday afternoon, ATF investigators rose high above to get an aerial view of the damage, as they work to figure out what caused the 4-alarm fire that burned through several buildings along this historic Old City block Sunday morning.

Dozens were forced to evacuate from their homes and hotel rooms at the Best Western, just a few doors down.

"At like 3:45 in the morning - just all of a sudden wha, wha, wha, wha - and you walk up all scared and disoriented," said Jessica Garcia, who was staying in the Best Western at the time the fire broke out. "One of the guys on our floor was banging this isn't a joke you have to get up."

This afternoon, hotel guests were allowed to access some rooms to retrieve belongings. They snapped photos showing damage inside.

"They called us this morning and said that we could come in and get our items that are in the rooms," said Allison Longenhagen of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. "They said there's about 3-4 inches of water in the rooms, and that some things may or may not be salvageable, which is fine because we're all okay."

From Chopper 6HD, you can see how the roof of 239 collapsed. L and I says the building is in imminent danger of collapsing. The people who lived on the upper floors have nothing to return to.

"We realize that residents who lost their apartments are in a much bigger fix than we are," said Cindy Johnson, of Morristown, New Jersey. "All we need is our car keys and we'll be okay. Stuff is stuff."

Third and Chestnut along with surrounding streets in Old City were still blocked off Monday morning after a massive 4-alarm fire tore through large buildings a day earlier.

Cindy Johnson and her husband of Morristown, New Jersey were staying at the Best Western Independence Park Hotel when the flames broke out.

It's now just a shell of a building.

"We were in bed sleeping and the fire alarm in the room went off and I could immediately smell smoke," Johnson said. "I grabbed my wedding ring and my purse; we pretty much put on the clothing we have on now."

ATF crews were on site all morning long collecting evidence. An arson dog was also brought out.

Several businesses were either burned out or suffered significant water and smoke damage, including the fairly new Little Lion restaurant.

Action News spoke with Maxemina Garcia of Juniata who works at another impacted business.

"When we came here, the fire was still going and we saw everything was closed off so we just went home. I'm just happy it didn't catch fire," Garcia said.

Residents said they believe the fire started in the residential building next to the hotel.

There is increasing concern that the structure might collapse.

Fire officials say the building owner has been asked to take down the fire escape to lessen the weight on the now weakening building.

The deputy fire commissioner said it's no surprise given the four hours it took to extinguish the flames.

But that concern is now preventing Johnson and others from going in and salvaging what belongings they can before it's too late.

"We just checked with someone from the hotel because we were concerned about when we would be able to get our stuff back and he said the fireman don't want to be bellmen, they have other responsibilities which we understand," Johnson said.


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