By Trang Do, Alicia Nieves and David Spunt
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A two-alarm fire that damaged 11 townhomes under construction in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia has been ruled an arson.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced Tuesday a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
“Acts of arson are dangerous crimes and threaten the community. ATF is committed to keeping the public safe from those who maliciously set fires,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Sam Rabadi. “We are asking the public to provide any information that would lead investigators to those responsible for this arson.”
The fire started around 4:15 a.m. Monday in the middle of 11 homes still under construction near 20th and Wharton Streets.
“I wake up, my whole room just turns orange,” said Michael Lopez, who lives across the street from the development. “I look outside my window and next thing you know, everything’s up in flames.”
Crews placed the fire under control in about an hour. No one was hurt.
Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, one of 75 firefighters on scene, said the incomplete houses made the fire especially challenging to put out.
“Before the building is really, any separations are put in, is particularly dangerous because the entire building is a system and when all of the structural components are not put together it makes it a collapse hazard,” Thiel said. “Also, you get a lot of air in there and air, of course, feeds the fire.”
All 11 townhouses were damaged. Two collapsed during the fire, and two more are being knocked down for safety.
During demolition, the developer, Ori Feibush, had to be forcibly removed from the property. He was upset with the way the houses were being knocked down and pleaded with the city’s crews not to cause more damage than necessary.
A source close to the construction project told Eyewitness News the townhomes, selling for about $500,000 each, were not insured.
Feibush was self-financing the project and was not required to have insurance.
“Right now it’s just kind of shock and it’s really bizarre,” Nina Mari D’Occhio said. Her parents are under contract to move into one of the homes.
“God works in mysterious ways,” said Gail Robinson, who lives in Point Breeze.
Some, like Robinson, have little sympathy for those involved in this project.
Neighbors said the development has caused a lot of controversy in the neighborhood. Residents feel like they are being pushed out by developers trying to buy up and sell out the area.
“Nobody agrees with it,” said Earl Roberts, District 9 committeeman. “They didn’t really want it built but it’s got to be built. It’s either have the houses or a lot. Now, I don’t know what it’s going to be.”
“This particular developer has not exactly endeared himself to the point breeze community,” said Ernest Peebles of Point Breeze.
Commissioner Thiel said investigators aren’t ruling anything out.
“Our fire marshals are incredible,” he said. “They work with a great arson squad with PPD and ATF, so we’ll have that whole team out here and we’ll figure it out.”