Overbrook apartment complex fire leaves nearly 60 people displaced

Tim Jimenez
December 10, 2018 - 6:22 am
A five-alarm fire broke out early Monday morning at Overbrook Gardens apartment complex, located at 63rd and Jefferson streets.

Tim Jimenez/KYW Newsradio

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UPDATED: 1:53 p.m.

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A five-alarm fire broke out early Monday morning at 63rd and Jefferson streets.

Fifty-seven people were displaced from their homes and into the frigid cold around 2 a.m. after being evacuated from the Overbrook Gardens apartment complex.

The fire is now under control.

Fire Chief Adam Thiel said more than 200 firefighters are still on the scene, however, and a fire this size is rare.

"Our last five-alarm fire was back that Friday night back in May," he recalled, in which a vacant warehouse in North Philadelphia went ablaze. 

Flames were shooting from the roof Monday morning and thick black smoke filled the air.

 As the building burned, Thiel said firefighters risked their lives to knock on doors and even knock down doors to get residents out.

"They stayed in there probably longer than we would like from a firefighter safety perspective as the building started to collapse," he said. Two firefighters were injured with minor burns and taken to the hospital. They have since been released.

A shelter has been set up at the nearby Commodore John Barry Elementary School at 59th and Race streets. Displaced residents stayed warm on SEPTA buses near the school.

For Patricia Butler and dozens of her neighbors, they will not be able to return to the building for about a week.

Butler is unsure what she's going to do. " 'Cause I don't have nobody, you know what I mean? It's just me, my uncle and my daughter." 

AJ Suero with the Red Cross said it and other organizations are working with the residents to make sure everyone is taken care of. 

"Some of those folks will actually be leaving from here to go stay with family and relatives, and then those who are remaining, we're actually trying to work out short-term solutions for them until a long-term plan can be established," he said.

In addition to the big organizations that are offering help, neighbors are also showing acts of kindness. Several people have handed out blankets, diapers for babies, and even toys for the kids. 

Amen Brown the with the Overbrook Beacon Community Center jumped into action after he received word that so many people were left without a place to go. He said the center is opening its doors for families and doing whatever they can to help the people in need. 
 
"We're going to bring around toys later," he added. "We're going to try and keep the young children happy as long as we can because we don't want them to be mentally affected by this. It's unfortunate enough that the parents are going through it."

Red Paw Emergency Relief, the local nonprofit that provides emergency response to pets, has been working alongside crews at the scene.

Jen Leary, head of the organization, said currently six pets are missing, and three cats have been displaced.

If you live in the apartment building and you have a pet still inside, call the Red Paw emergency line at 267-289-2PAW.

In all, it took about six hours to get the fire under control. There's still no details as to how the fire started. A few nearby homes were also evacuated in case the apartment building collapsed, and power was shut off, which stunned people like Steven Thompson, who lives nearby.

"Went to turn the light on, no lights came on. Then I realized we didn’t have electric so I had to come out here and see what’s going on and to be amazed to see the devastation going on up here," he said.

It is unknown how many people live in the apartment complex or how many were inside at the time of the fire.

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This is a developing story. KYW Newsradio's Shara Dae Howard and Justin Udo contributed to this report.