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Old City fire: Clean-up continues, cause still unknown

Some residents were allowed to re-enter their homes Wednesday, days after a four-alarm blaze displaced an estimated 150 people.
Fire department personnel continue to clean up the site of a four-alarm fire that occurred on Sunday on the 200 block of Chestnut Street in Old City, Philadelphia. (Charles Mostoller)

Days after a four-alarm blaze in the heart of Philadelphia’s Old City spread through multiple buildings on a historic section of Chestnut Street, the cause of the fire remains under investigation and firefighters are still monitoring the scene for the risk of recurring “hotspots.” 

On Wednesday, for the first time since the fire started, some residents were allowed back into their homes to retrieve needed belongings. But roads around the scene of the fire remain closed as the city prepares to demolish 239 Chestnut Street, the five-story loft building across the street from the Museum of the American Revolution, where the fire reportedly originated around 3 a.m. Sunday and which has been declared “imminently dangerous.”

“L&I [Department of Licenses & Inspections] officials are determining how best to stabilize neighboring buildings so that 239 Chestnut can be taken down safely and without causing further damage to these buildings,” an L&I spokesman said in a statement Wednesday. 

On Tuesday, the city removed the fire escape from 239 Chestnut to alleviate pressure on the building. L&I previously said they “hope to be able to save the historic cast-iron facade of the building.” 

The fire affected several buildings within the boundaries of 3rd, Chestnut, Bank Street and Elbow Lane. It also led to the cancellation of MOAR’s planned Presidents’ Day breakfast, as the museum volunteered its space as a temporary shelter and gave the food to their neighbors. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation by the Philly Fire Marshal’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) 

It’s not the first fire in the historic neighborhood. In April 2014, the Shirt Corner store at nearby 3rd and Market streets was destroyed by a midday blaze. Additionally, 239 Chestnut Street did not reach the height level at which a sprinkler system is legally required and did not have sprinklers installed when the Feb. 18 blaze broke out, the Inquirer reported.

No injuries were reported, but an estimated dozen or so pets lost their lives in the fire. An estimated 150 people total were displaced from the site of the fire.

Repairs in progress

The following sites have been cleared for re-occupancy:
229 Chestnut St., 231 Chestnut St., 233 Chestnut St, 33 S 3rd St., 35 S 3rd S.t, 37-39 S 3rd St., and 32-42 S Bank St

Residents are allowed to contact their property managers to request access to retrieve necessary items at the following address:  241-43 Chestnut Street, 45 S. 3rd Street, 41-43 S 3rd Street, and 24 S. Bank Street.

Streets around the area of the fire will remain closed until cleanup and demolition are complete.

The below diagram shows which buildings were affected by the blaze, courtesy of L&I.