PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Nearly 180 firefighters battled a five-alarm apartment fire in Philadelphia’s Overbrook section for more than five hours on Monday morning. Tenants believe the fire started from a man burning a candle on the fourth floor.
Firefighters were called to the Overbrook Gardens apartment building on the 900 block of North 63rd Street just after 2 a.m. Monday.
Flames forced 57 people from their homes and injured two firefighters. The firefighters’ injuries are said to be minor.
Firefighters say battling the fire was very difficult due to the bitter cold and wind conditions. Crews had to salt the roads and firefighters gear was partially frozen.
“A fire of this magnitude is always a challenge, the cold definitely complicates things,” said Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel. “We’re still actually collecting people who evacuated the building, it’s a very large apartment building. Also, unfortunately, parts of the building are starting to collapse so we are having to do evacuations at some of the adjacent structures that are around the apartment building.”
Residents stood in the cold for several hours as crews worked to contain the flames.
“At first I didn’t know what was going on but after opening the door in the hallway I saw the smoke and smelled it and grabbed my cat… put what I had on my back and left,” said resident Dwayne Vinson. “All my belongings are gone. Everything I own is up in that house, and I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
“We’re still displaced. It’s a lot of us. There’s people that don’t have family in Philadelphia, so not knowing what we’re going to be able to do,” said Valerie Griffin.
Patricia Barracks’ 16-year-old daughter was in the apartment and called 911 and then called her mom.
“I just came straight to her aid and see if there was anything I could get anything out of my apartment but I was just unbelievably too late,” said Barracks.
Too late she is nearly certain, for their dog Luna.
I’m sad for her because if I knew in time I would have grabbed some things that were there and I would have grabbed Luna too,” she said.
The American Red Cross and Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management opened a warming center at Commodore John Barry Elementary School at 5900 Race Street for the displaced residents. Roughly 38 displaced residents have moved to West Philadelphia High School to spend the night. Several dozen others affected by the fire went to stay with family and friends.
“When you go to bed at night and this is not what you expect. Especially in the dead of winter,” said Valerie Watkins, who was displaced in the fire. “We didn’t know that it was going to grow to grow to that magnitude. We really thought the fire was going to be put out and we were going to go back into our apartments.”
“We’re working with our partners, Red Paw Relief as well, to handle some of the pets. Mostly adults, but we do have a few children here as well,” said Dave Skutnik of Red Cross Philadelphia.
There have been no reports of anyone missing.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.