At least two people were trapped Thursday after a massive blast at a South Philadelphia row home sparked a fire that spread to adjacent buildings, prompting an extraordinary response from fire fighters.
Officials say the explosion happened at a home on the 1400 block of South 8th Street, near Reed Street, around 11 a.m., causing at least one building to collapse and trap occupants and setting off a 3-alarm response. The fire involved at least three buildings, fire officials said. Fire fighters were furiously working to find victims. SEPTA buses were assisting in the evacuation of residents.
It took firefighters three hours to subdue the flames, but as of 3:30 p.m., rescue efforts were still very much under way.
Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel emphasized that although the fire was mostly extinguished, there were many unknowns.
“As you can see, this is still an active fire fight,” Thiel told media gathered at the scene. “Until we’ve had a chance to get inside the building, it’s going to take a signficant amount of effort, and will be a challenge.”
Thiel said officials were waiting for the gas to be turned off in the area so they could carry on their search and investigation. Smoke and fire were making it difficult for fire fighters to fully access the scene, he said.
Thiel said fire fighters arrived to find one building fully collapsed, with multiple other buildings suffering structural damage. They searched the rubble looking for signs of life, and evacuated the adjacent homes. Power and gas was being shut off following the incident. More than 100 firefighters and medics responded to the scene, he said, as did the Salvation Army.
“This will be an extremely risky and dagnerous operation to perform,” Thiel said of the search efforts, adding that fire fighters were still trying to figure out how many people were in the structures at the time of the blast.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “We don’t know how many people are potentially trapped… We are going to do our absolute best to figure out who is inside and what their status is.”
He called the fire “gas-fed,” but it was not clear if gas work was being performed on the block at the time of the blast.
Neighbors told The Inquirer that the blast was so loud it shook their homes. Witness Lisa Marie Cerra said she and other residents tried to help a woman trapped under rubble when fire fighters arrived on scene.
“We saw her feet,” she told The Inquirer. “And they couldn’t get to her.” Thiel confirmed the incident to local media.
No fire fighters were reported injured as of Thursday afternoon, “and we’re hoping to keep it that way,” Thiel said, before praising his heroic colleagues.
“They went into a fully collapsed building that was on fire to try to rescue somebody, and thats what they do,” he said of the first responders. “We’re not giving up. The Philadelpha Fire Department never gives up on anybody.”