PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Two people are presumed dead following a house explosion and multi-alarm fire in South Philadelphia on Thursday morning. Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel says firefighters were not able to remove the two people trapped. While the firefight comes to an end, firefighters now turn their attention to the search and recovery.
As of Friday morning, people who live on the 1400 block of South 8th Street were still being asked to stay out of the area.
Sixty people on the block were evacuated as crews doused hot spots. Video from Chopper 3 showed flames and smoke shooting from multiple row homes.
The explosion and fire leveled three houses and significantly damaged two others.
Heavy equipment was brought in to lift debris. Thiel also said they’re concerned about a sinkhole forming under the street.
The fire reached three alarms as over 120 firefighters responded to the scene.
Police say they received multiple calls to a house explosion and possible gas smell, shortly after 11:30 a.m. The fire was placed under control three hours later.
“This will be an extremely risky and dangerous operation to perform … a thorough search and hopefully rescue anybody who might be inside,” Thiel said. “We’re still trying to figure out how many people occupied these buildings, where they were when this occurred.”
Members are working at the scene near 8th & Reed and behind the scenes at the Fire Communications Center. pic.twitter.com/la3bftG1Ud
— Philadelphia Fire (@PhillyFireDept) December 19, 2019
It appears the fire started at a middle row home and then spread to adjacent homes.
.@PhillyFireDept on scene of fire and explosion on the 1400 block of South 8th Street. 2 people are trapped. Waiting on commissioner for an update. 🎥 : Mike Seccia @CBSPhilly pic.twitter.com/AH1aNKvaNO
— Howard Monroe (@HMonroeNews) December 19, 2019
The explosion and fire rattled the entire neighborhood.
“I heard an explosion like I’ve never heard in my life. It sounded like a bomb went off,” eyewitness Mike Seccia said.
Some people tried to jump in to try to help before firefighters arrived.
“It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” Brian Contrisciane said. “It was horrible, man.”
Contrisciane says he and others tried to save one person he saw in the rubble, but the smoke turned to fire.
— Greg Argos (@GregArgosCBS3) December 20, 2019
“Two or three people got up on top to start looking for people and there was a guy in the house wrapped up in a mattress, basically, and we tried to pull him out and we couldn’t get him out,” he said.
Officials have not yet said what caused the explosion and resulting fire. They say an investigation will pick up as soon as a recovery mission is complete.
Power and gas have been shut off to the block, affecting as many as 150 customers.
The American Red Cross has opened a reception center at South Philly High School. People who live in the 1400 blocks of South 8th and South Franklin Streets are urged not to try to go home. Thiel says they will try to get residents back inside their homes as soon as possible.
The Red Paw Emergency Relief Team also went door-to-door to check on pets.
No firefighters were injured.
CBS3’s Howard Monroe and Crystal Cranmore contributed to this report.