PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Nearly 20 homeless people have been evacuated after an old church goes up in flames on Thursday morning.
It happened around 1 a.m. in the 700 block of East Cornwall Street in the Kensington section of the city.
Firefighters worked through the extreme cold to battle the two-alarm blaze at the Ascension of Our Lord Parish, a vacant church being used to house approximately 19 homeless people.
“I looked and it was like, I said, ‘Oh my God,’ and I said, ‘I never seen nothing like that in my life,'” said evacuee Tina Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald and neighbor Richard Newsome were among the many forced to evacuate.
“People got kids. We gotta go to work and I went outside and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in the cold.’ I’m older. I’m not no younger woman and my daughter has to go to work and it was a real mess. It was really a mess,” said Fitzgerald.
Neighbors say the church is a popular spot for the homeless to seek shelter.
“That’s been going on for quite a bit and I was wondering why they let it get out of hand like this because some communities they clean up, but this, they don’t clean up around here,” said Fitzgerald.
“It’s cold outside. I know that for one and I know what they do when they go in there. They’re trying to get away from the cold,” said neighbor Raymond Gauthier.
Escaping the cold was something firefighters couldn’t do. Water quickly turned to ice and salt trucks were called in.
“What we are dealing with, about 13 degrees right now, this is brutal. We’ve got guys that are just totally covered in ice,” said Philadelphia Fire Deputy Commissioner Gary Loesch.
No injuries were reported.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.