A tire fire in Southwest Philadelphia sent plumes of smoke across the city

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A Tuesday night blaze that consumed a massive pile of tires at 61st Street and Lindbergh Boulevard sent a column of smoke arcing over South Philadelphia and Center City, with black clouds wafting across the Delaware River into New Jersey.

No injuries were reported, and the cause of the inferno was not released, but the smoke that spread across the region was thick and stinky.

Burning tires are considered toxic, according to the EPA, with the smoke carrying fine particles and chemicals. On Wednesday morning, health officials were testing air samples and advised anyone with heart or lung issues to avoid exerting themselves in areas that still have haze or the smell.

The University of Pennsylvania sent out an alert Wednesday with strong guidelines regarding the lingering smoke/haze from the tire fire, advising people on its West Philly campus to:

  • Stay inside as much as possible
  • Close windows
  • Wear a mask outdoors
  • Avoid outdoor exercise
  • Run air purifiers if possible

Firefighters first arrived around 3 p.m. at the scene, variously described by officials as a junkyard or recycling yard.

As the sun began to make its early descent, the fire reached two alarms, and dozens of firefighters battled the flames for more than two hours before bringing it under control around 5:30 p.m., according to the Philly Fire Department. Crews were still on site Wednesday afternoon, putting out hot spots.

Tire fires are relatively common in Philadelphia.

In 2018, a four-alarm fire that consumed a Kensington junkyard became famous when a clip of the Positive Movement Entertainment drumline led by costumed Elmo in front of the blaze went viral, as it seemed to be a real-life version of a well-used meme.

Two decades ago, in 1996, a giant pile of at least 10,000 tires caught fire in Port Richmond and melted part of I-95, shutting down the highway for several months.

When tire fires happen in the River Wards, prevailing winds mean the smoke rarely spreads across the city skyline like this one in Southwest Philly. And it doesn’t usually happen in the middle of a beautiful sunset.

The fire raged as the sun dipped below the horizon Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

Scroll down to see more of the photos Philadelphians posted of the unusual view.

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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...