Philly’s opioid crisis

Kensington junkyard owner blames people with addiction, not code violations, for giant fire

Community leaders in the area have a very different take.

Firefighters battled a four-alarm blaze at a junkyard at Tulip and Somerset last week.

Firefighters battled a four-alarm blaze at a junkyard at Tulip and Somerset last week.

Natasha Laurenson / Billy Penn
michaelawinberg-square-crop-feb2018

A four-alarm fire broke out last week at a junkyard in Kensington, and the owner of the lot was quick to point the finger.

Just about 24 hours after the blaze ravaged his scrapyard, owner David Feinberg told CBS3 that he believes homeless people with addiction were responsible. They must’ve trespassed, he alleged, and set fire to his lot, which is officially called the Philadelphia Metal and Resource Recovery.

Feinberg confirmed his suspicions to Billy Penn Monday afternoon.

“That’s my assumption,” Feinberg said. “My guard who was doing his rounds did hear voices on the other side of the fence immediately prior to the signs of smoke. This has been an ongoing problem for years.”

The security guard called 911 for help — and then called Feinberg, who rushed to the scene. The Fire Department had already begun working to quell the blaze, he said, and he stayed with them all night.

Despite Feinberg’s certainty about the cause of the fire, neighborhood leaders aren’t so sure people with addiction deserve the blame.

“Certainly the neighborhood has struggled with homelessness and homeless people who are suffering from addiction,” said Felix Torres-Colon, the executive director of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation. “The city has been really working on it and making some huge strides.”

But Torres-Colon said he’d shift the blame elsewhere — onto Feinberg.

The junkyard operated by Feinberg has racked up more than 30 code violations dating back 11 years, according to records from the Department of Licenses & Inspections. Around 50 percent of them are still listed as open.

After being issued by L&I, those violations so far resulted in two hearings in the Court of Common Pleas. There’s a third hearing scheduled for Aug. 30, and the city is reportedly seeking some hefty fines.

“Given his numerous violations that go back all the way until 2007,” said NKCDC’s Torres-Colon, “it’s almost irrelevant how it started. Given everything he was doing, it was bound to happen.”

Feinberg denied that claim, insisting “code violations had absolutely nothing to do with this fire.” The L&I violations are for infractions including absent fire extinguishers, prohibited open flame devices and a structurally unsafe exterior — among many others.

Regardless of the ultimate cause, the fire has Torres-Colon worried for the future of his neighborhood.

He’s aware that the scrapyard at Somerset and Tulip is just one of several in Kensington, and he wouldn’t be surprised if others have code violations, too.

“We’ve always worried about that,” Torres-Colon said. “We’ve taken these violations to the court, and the court has been generous in terms of giving people time to address their problems.”

Plus, Torres-Colon said the fire only worsened an already present problem in Kensington: poor air quality.

Air quality is measured by the level of exposure to fine particulate matter. Air monitoring devices near the junkyard fire — provided in 2017 by the Clean Air Council — went up from 20 micrograms per cubic meter to 773 — that’s an unbelievable increase, especially given the federal standard for air quality is 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

“We really need to start looking at some policy changes,” he said, “to ensure these violations become enforceable.”