Old City fire: What we know (and what we don’t)

More than 150 people were evacuated and multiple businesses had to shut down.

oldcityfire-feb2018
Instagram / @aaronmott1123
danya

Updated 3:30 p.m.

In the wee hours between Saturday night and Sunday morning this weekend, a huge fire spread through buildings on the 200 block of Chestnut Street in Old City, across from the Museum of the American Revolution. More than a hundred people were evacuated, but no human injuries were reported, although some pets are assumed killed.

It took firefighters more than nine hours to get the blaze under control. Late Sunday night, Fire Dept. officials said they were treating the affected area as a “collapse zone” and were not prepared to enter buildings until at least Monday morning.

That’s not great news for the many ground-floor businesses along the street, most of which were forced to close and several of which suffered extensive smoke and water damage.

Here’s what we know — and what we don’t — about the Feb. 18 Old City fire.

What we know

The blaze

  • Flames were first reported just after 3 a.m. Sunday
  • The fire appears to have originated in 239 Chestnut St., a five-story masonry building with offices and residences on upper floors and a retail space on the ground floor
  • Within an hour, the fire had escalated to two alarms; around 4:50 a.m., a third alarm was struck; the fourth alarm was run just a half-hour later
  • The fire was finally placed under control at 12:23 p.m.
  • Eventually, more than 400 firefighters reportedly joined the battle; two were reportedly treated for minor injuries

The buildings

  • On Monday afternoon, officials with the Philly Dept. of Licenses and Inspections declared 239 Chestnut St. “imminently dangerous.” L&I ordered the property owner to remove the fire escape from the upper floors to lessen the stress, and say that eventually, the building will have to be demolished. Officials note they hope the historic cast-iron facade can be saved.
  • Also Monday, L&I deemed 237 Chestnut St. “unsafe” as a result of structural damage on the fifth floor. This building, however, will not need to be demolished, officials believe.

The evacuations

  • Around 160 people were evacuated from at least four buildings on the block
  • Evacuees included residents and guests at the Best Western Independence Park Hotel at 235 Chestnut St. and Apple Hostels at 32 Bank St.
  • Displaced people were offered temporary shelter at the Museum of the American Revolution and a SEPTA bus that was called to the scene
  • The Salvation Army was on the scene offering food, beverages and comfort care to displaced persons and firefighters
  • Red Paw Relief animal rescue was also on the scene; more than two dozen pets were affected
  • At least nine cats and four birds died in the fire
  • There’s a GoFundMe set up for displaced resident Al Gury, an artist and cat-lover

Businesses affected

  • The Little Lion, a multi-floor restaurant and bar at 243 Chestnut St. on the corner of Third, was severely damaged and remains temporarily closed
  • Gina’s 45, a new cocktail bar that had only just opened around the corner at 45 S. Third St., sustained serious damage
  • Revolution Diner, a 24-hour operation that stretched across the ground floors of 239 and 241 Chestnut St., had been closed for over a month; the restaurant space was previously home to Barra (among other concepts)
  • The Museum of the American Revolution remained closed throughout Sunday, and had to cancel a planned President’s Day breakfast and refund ticketholders money; the museum expected to reopen at 10 a.m. Monday
  • Capofitto Pizza & Gelato reported only smoke damage and hopes to reopen Monday
  • Apple Hostels, located in the alley between Second and Third, was not damaged, per a spokesperson, and remained open Sunday night, housing all of its guests as planned
  • Other business near the fire’s epicenter include Sababa Vapes, Xenos Candy & Gifts and Old City Tobacco

Traffic changes

  • Chestnut Street between Second and Third is completely closed to vehicular traffic
  • Also closed as of Monday morning is Second Street from Walnut up to Arch and Third Street between Walnut and Market
  • SEPTA bus routes detoured, per PHL17, include the 17, 21, 33, 42, 48, 5, 57 and 9

What we don’t know

The extent of the damage

  • Aside from 239 and 237 Chestnut St., the extent of the damage to buildings on the block is not yet known
  • The Little Lion and Gina’s 45 have not set timetables for reopening or estimated how extensive the repairs will be

The situation for people displaced

  • Some residents are reportedly staying with friends
  • The Best Western hotel is closed “until further notice”
  • Gury, the painter who lived on an upper floor of 239 Chestnut St., lost all his belongings including his wallet; he also lost all his pets, including five cats and one foster kitten

The cause of the fire

  • According to a report given to PMN by Gury, residents heard “some kind of explosion” in the basement that “shook the whole buildings”
  • No report on the fire’s possible cause has been released by the Philadelphia Fire Dept. Per city officials, the Fire Marshal’s Office is currently investigating.