The blocks that surround the abandoned warehouse, located at 1871 E. York St., which caught fire early Monday morning, continue to be off-limits as construction workers and firefighters spent countless hours trying to clear the area of leftover debris and hazardous material.
Now that the flames have been put out, city workers were left to clean up what is left, while local residents have no choice but to deal with the damage done to their homes.
As the building burned through the night, the wind blew embers toward neighboring houses on Jasper Street. Backyards, roofs and sides of houses all caught fire as a result.
Today, as the smell of smoke still lingers up and down the Kensington streets, police cars and yellow tape are keeping the area clear of civilians. The cause of the fire remains unknown, so firefighters working the clean-up do not know what danger still lurks under the giant piles of soot and ash.
One police officer, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that the plan is to get the area cleaned up as soon as possible, but the work will likely carry into next week. All of the rubble on the ground has to be removed before the walls of the warehouse that are still standing can be knocked down.
“I have seen fires before, but this is the worst one I can remember,” said Pat Toman, who has lived on Jasper Street for 47 years. “I have water and smoke damage, but luckily I still have my home. The fire department saved it.”
While the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, theories have surfaced as to what may have started it. Kensington is home to a number of abandoned buildings, and the homeless often use those buildings to keep warm and off the streets.
“You can look around and see all the drugs that are on the streets,” Shaw said. “You hear about it but nobody is doing anything. It’s more than possible that drug addicts were inside, lit a candle or two and it spread from there.”
Authorities said they are not ready to call it arson, and the way it spread so fast makes them believe there was some sort of electrical explosion inside that set off the destructive sequence of events.
A lot of the residents whose houses were damaged lack the proper insurance to be able to rest easy knowing their homes will be repaired.
“The backyard and the back of my house are destroyed,” Shaw said. “I’m thankful my family and I are safe, but I don’t have insurance and there’s nobody that’s going to help.”
“I know a lot of people here are uninsured and aren’t prepared for something like this to happen,” said Dinh Tran, who lives at 2435 Jasper St. “The back of my house caught fire, and I have damage to more than one of the walls inside. You can still smell the smoke.”
Local residents are also outraged by the fact that the owners of the abandoned warehouse have declined to comment or take responsibility for that happened on their property.
“The people who own it are nowhere to be found,” Tran said. “I’ve been told they live in New York and don’t even care enough to come see the damage.”
The Lichtenstein family, from Brooklyn, N.Y., reportedly owns the building and owes the city of Philadelphia $385,000 in back taxes on 31 different properties, not including this one that once stood on East York Street.
Yesterday, after visiting the site, Mayor Michael Nutter spoke on a local televised news station about the fire.
“First and foremost, property owners must step up and take their responsibility,” Nutter said. “Once we give that notice, they are the ones who are required to jump into action to secure their property.”
Tru Nguyen, who lives at 2433 Jasper St., said that, while he too is frustrated about the damage to his home, it is important to remember Lt. Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney, who died trying to stop it.
“We’re worried about our damage, but they lost their lives,” Nguyen said. “That’s something I won’t forget.”
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