Companies from three counties battle blaze
(Updated 6/24 1:15 PM) - Fire broke out around 5:50 Sunday morning in a third floor apartment at Penn View Apartments, 127 Fourth Street in Pennsburg leaving 20 residents homeless.
Upper Perk Police officer James Lavin and Marlborough officer Andrew Curtis were among the first to arrive on the scene and entered through the first floor and began alerting residents. Heat and heavy smoke hampered their ability to reach the third floor. There was an original report of someone trapped in the building but all residents did escape without injuries. First responders were met with heavy, black smoke spewing from the building and flames shooting 20-feet from the third floor windows.
Pennsburg Fire Company was not originally sent to the call because it was first dispatched as 127 Cherry Street in East Greenville. The Penn View Apartments are located at the corner of Fourth Street and Cherry Street in Pennsburg.
According to Pennsburg Chief Scott Seip, the third floor was involved in flames when firefighters arrived with smoke belching from the eves of the entire building. Seip called for a second alarm at 6:08 AM. According to police and firefighter accounts, there was no fire alarm sounding when they entered the building.
Water was supplied by two hydrants; one at Fourth and Cherry Streets and the other at Fourth and Dotts Streets. The volunteers were able to quickly make their way to the third floor and extinguish the fire, but heavy damage had already been done. Seip declared the fire under control at 6:39 AM.
Early firefighter attempts to ventilate the roof to allow the smoke and heat to escape, were hampered because the fire had weakened the roof to the point where it could cave in. Using caution, firefighters were able to put four openings in the roof to aid firefighters inside.
A very large crowd gathered quickly in the area to watch and video the scene. Due to the number of onlookers and a report of an unruly person, Lavin called for additional police to assist. Officers from New Hanover, Douglass Township and a State Police Trooper responded to assist. Upper Perk Police took one person into custody for the disturbance.
As of noon Sunday, the displaced residents were removed, by bus, to the Pennsburg Firehouse where Red Cross workers were on hand to provide food and water, and to determine the victim's needs. According to Cody Belmont, Pennsburg Emergency Management Coordinator, those who don't have a place to stay will be housed at nearby hotels. Neighbors began showing up at the firehouse almost immediately to donate clothing for the victims.
No injuries were reported. The fire was investigated by State Police Fire Marshall David Eggleston. According to Seip, the fire was caused by careless smoking. Damage was estimated to be at least $400,000. According to Montgomery County records, the property is owned by Pennsburg attorney Christopher Meinzer.
Cody reported that, of the 20 displaced residents "16 were housed in local hotels and four stayed with family. Two birds were taken in by Red Paw Emergency Relief Team to be evaluated for smoke inhalation and numerous dogs were accepted by the hotels that their owners are staying at." Included in the displaced persons were residents of an apartment building at 119 Fourth Street (next to the damaged structure) who were moved from their homes until the exterior wall of 127 Fourth Street was deemed either safe or demolished.
While firefighters were on the scene, fire police closed off Fourth Street from Pottstown Avenue to Railroad Street; Dotts Street, from Pottstown Avenue to Third Street; and Cherry Street, from Second Street to Fourth Street in Pennsburg.
Montgomery County fire and fire police unites assisting Pennsburg were East Greenville, Red Hill, Green Lane, New Hanover,
Units responding from Berks County included Hereford, Eastern Berks Regional, Boyertown Friendship Hook and Ladder,
Units responding from Bucks County included Milford Township, Trumbauersville, Quakertown,
Emergency Medical Services units responded from Upper Perkiomen Valley Ambulance Association, Bally and Harleysville. A canteen unit from North Penn Goodwill also responded to the scene.
As of Tuesday morning, Belmont reported that the apartment buildings at both 119 and 127 Fourth Street have been condemned to allow officials to secure the structures from all entry. This will allow officials to keep people out of the building until it has been fully evaluated, by engineers, for public safety.
The apartment building, a former antique shop and prior to that, a cigar factory, was the scene of another near disasterous fire on the afternoon of April 15, 1977 when five people were rescued from the burning building by firefighers and police.