PHILADELPHIA – A fire at a four-story apartment complex on Monday spewed thick black smoke that could be seen for miles and sent flames shooting from the rooftop, endangering other buildings and forcing at least one nearby school to send children home early.
The 90-unit apartment complex was evacuated safely, and there were no reports of serious injuries, firefighters said. One passer-by was taken to a hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, dispatchers said.
Fire crews were called to the Windermere Court complex in West Philadelphia on Monday afternoon, and the fire quickly worsened, Deputy Chief Willy Williams said. About 160 firefighters aided by 50 pieces of equipment battled the blaze, Williams said. The fire was reported under control Monday night after crews worked for almost five hours to put it out.
Hoses poured water on the fire from several sides of the apartment complex, which has three large residential sections that are connected, as crews tried to keep the flames from spreading to nearby buildings, Williams said.
"Whenever you have gusting winds, always a chance embers will be spread," he said. "The fire is coming up through the roof, so that is one of the concerns."
Emergency crews had gone through the complex to get residents safely away from the fire, whose cause hadn't been determined, Williams said.
A Red Cross reception center to help displaced residents initially was set up at West Philadelphia High School next door and later was moved to the Alain Locke School several blocks away. Spokesman Dave Schrader said 85 people were being given food and clothing at the center Monday night, and about 25 to 30 would be sheltered there overnight.
Windermere Court resident Liorah Eising said she had not taken anything when she left her apartment, thinking it was another of the complex's frequent false alarms.
"I have nothing on me, not even a dollar," said Eising, a 32-year-old unemployed massage therapist. "Now I am jobless and homeless."
Mayor Michael Nutter visited the fire scene Monday evening and sent a Twitter message asking people to "pray for the families who have lost their homes and firefighters still battling the blaze."
Parents were called to pick up children from the Henry C. Lea Elementary School a block away, where a lot of smoke was reported.
"I almost passed out in the stairs," 7-year-old Mya Word said.
The high school and the elementary school would be closed Tuesday, the School District of Philadelphia said.
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