By Oren Liebermann, Elizabeth Hur, Nicole Brewer and Kim Glovas
PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) – The City of Philadelphia is asking the district attorney to take a look at code violations at the warehouse which burned Monday morning, killing two firefighters, and injuring two others.
The fire at the warehouse in East Kensington bathed the night in orange flame and radiant heat. Chris Bierzalo felt it too close to home.
“I grabbed the kids, grabbed the dog,” said Bierzalo, who lives a block away from the fire. “My car was parked here on the side and we took off.”
Although the warehouse was abandoned, neighbors say it certainly was not empty. The building had broken windows and doors that were open to anyone. They say it was a haven for problems.
“Easy access to walk in and out. You could come off the L. You could see all the windows wide open,” said East Kensington resident Mike Walsh. “Nobody boards it up.”
Everett Gillison, the deputy mayor of public safety and chief of staff, says the owner of the warehouse, Namen Lichtenstein of Brooklyn, New York could face criminal charges for failing to secure that property. The Department of Licenses and Inspections says that property was cited in November of 2011 and the owner never responded to two more violations. Gillison says it’s time to take the next step.
“If we can prove that there is negligence in how owners deal with their buildings, then we can refer for District Attorney Seth Williams to take a look at whether this is risking a catastrophe, and criminal negligence, and if it is, then there could be criminal prosecution.”
The owners were cited for failing to keep the property clean, safe and secure. L&I says it was ready to take the owners to court in May over the violations.
At about 5:20 a.m. Monday, firefighters declared the fire under control, but thirty minutes later, while working on adjacent Giamari Furniture and Bedding, two firefighters died when the building collapsed.
The fire damaged six nearby homes, destroying three of them. At its peak, more than 2,100 people were out of power in the area. But it was not the fire that surprised anyone; it was the loss of the firefighters.
“I’m not sure how many more there are that are vacant,” said Wayne Cambern, referring to the abandoned warehouses around Kensington, “but I think you can expect to see them go.”
The warehouse building’s owner is speaking out. David Feuerstein of the New York-based law firm Herrick, Feinstein, representing York Street Property Development, called the fire “an unspeakable tragedy.”
“Our condolences and heartfelt prayers go out to the families of Lt. Neary and Firefighter Sweeney, and to their grieving colleagues at the Philadelphia Fire Department,” he said in a statement. “We are cooperating, and will continue to do so, with all law enforcement and government agencies as they investigate this fire.”
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