WEST CHESTER, Pa. (CBS) — Officials are still trying to account for all the residents following a five-alarm blaze that ripped through a senior citizen living facility in West Chester on Thursday night.
At least 27 people were injured in the fire, according to West Chester Police Chief Scott Bohn. Authorities believe all injuries are non-life threatening.
Firefighters were called just before 11 p.m. to Barclay Friends, located in the 700 block of North Franklin Street.
The fire quickly spread to multiple buildings, and flames could be seen shooting from the roofs and windows of the structures. Firefighters were still dousing hot spots Friday morning, even though the fire was declared under control around 1:22 a.m.
There were about 160 combined staff and residents inside when the flames broke out.
Flames reached over 50 feet at the height of the fire.
“It’s currently still an active fire scene, we are still dousing hot spots, and currently it is under investigation by the local county and state officials,” said West Chester Fire Chief Mike McDonald during a press conference Friday morning.
Finally getting a front view of the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester. On the fire-damaged side, you can see the roof is completely gone & smoldering @CBSPhilly pic.twitter.com/RvX3KRk7n2
— Trang Do (@TrangDoCBS3) November 17, 2017
“It was pandemonium but it wasn’t panic, everyone was running around trying to help wherever they could,” said Betty Smith, who was woken up just before 11 p.m. as the living center she lived in went up in flames.
“The next thing you know, bursts through the door is a couple guys with black jackets with stuff written on the back. They say, ‘You gotta get out! You gotta get out,’” Smith recounts. “I turned around and looked and saw all the flames in back.”
Residents close to the Barclays Friends nursing home quickly sprung into action.
“I asked if I could help and instead of waiting I just went in,” said Larry Kingsland. “We wrapped this gentleman in a blanket and made a stretcher out of it and actually carried him away from the fire as far as we could.”
The daughter of a woman who lives at the nursing center praised the staff and community for their hard work.
“The staff was doing a great job, they got everybody out as best as they could and it seemed they were being taken care of and moved to a safe and warm facility. So we are very grateful to see that so many people were taken care of, and we were happy to find our mom,” said Susan McCardell.
Joe Del Rossi, who lives nearby, says he saw flames shooting 50 feet in the air.
“It happened at the end of the Flyers game. So I turned off the Flyers game and I look out my window and I see a big ball of orange. I thought it was my house,” said Rossi.
Don Robinson, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, says the ATF’s National Response Team has been activated and will assist in the investigation.
Robinson added that authorities are still trying to account for all the residents.
“We’re still compiling a list and solid fix on all the residents and that they all have been accounted for,” said Robinson.
Images from Chopper 3 show dozens of people wrapped in blankets, some in wheelchairs, outside of the property before they were transported to shelters around the area.
“It was a lot of elderly residents wrapped up in blankets, waiting for transport and then figuring out the logistics of where that transport would be,” said West Chester Mayor Jordan Norley. “People were making calls, sending emails, seeing what they could do to help. A lot of local supporters helped out.”
Crews have closed the roads near the senior living facility. Drivers are advised to use alternate routes.
A spokeswoman for Main Line Health, a not-for-profit health system, said one of its hospitals also was prepared to provide shelter to some additional residents of the senior living community. Some residents were taken to nearby West Chester University.
The American Red Cross is also assisting residents displaced by the fire. They said all residents have been moved to specialized health care facilities to meet their immediate needs.
Officials urge family members of residents to report to the Goodwill Fire Station located at 552 East Union St. in West Chester or to call 610-757-5863.
Barclay Friends issued the following statement:
We are so, so sad to report that last night there was a tragic fire at Barclay Friends, a Kendal Affiliate in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Despite a swift, effective, and compassionate response by first responders, along with Barclay Friends staff and so many volunteers, the physical loss is devastating and the emotional toll, even more so.
In time, we’ll know more about what happened, what’s to be done going forward, and how we can all hold Barclay Friends and its people up through this devastation and into the future.
In the meantime, our first priorities include caring for the residents and their families during this immediate transition. Starting at the triage centers, Barclay Friends staff and its neighbors began doing everything within their power to ensure levels of continuity in care and compassion during the evacuation, knowing the suffering and fear that part of such a catastrophe.
As the day and weekend goes on, residents from Barclay Friends now dispersed over many different communities in and around Chester County will rest, begin to heal, and commence with the longer range planning to support more permanent transitions as they may be needed. Kendal and Barclay Friends staff will do this work together with the residents and their families. Our teams, over time, will also be aided by the numbers of friends and colleagues from Pennsylvania and all over the United States who have reached out and want to help.
Again, our hearts go out to the residents, their families, the staff and their families at Barclay Friends. All of our thoughts and prayers will continue to be vital, as well as will the continuance of good work and outpouring of support that emerged last night and has sustained us through the morning hours.
As we know more we will be sure to deliver updates. In the meantime, we are heartbroken by what’s befallen Barclay Friends and uplifted by the caring and generosity that surrounds them and us.
While there is no word on what caused this fire, several residents said they heard a boom and some sort of explosion and then, minutes later, saw the intense flames.