PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A massive fire at an abandoned warehouse claimed the lives of two Philadelphia firefighters after a wall collapsed inside an adjacent building where the two men were trying to halt the fire's progress, officials said Monday.
Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said three other firefighters were injured in the collapse, which trapped fire personnel inside and required others to spring to their aid.
"We have two firefighters that have lost their lives," Ayers said outside Temple University Hospital. "We're asking for prayers for the families."
The firefighters, ages 60 and 25, were killed when the rear wall collapsed in a furniture store adjacent to the large brick warehouse where the massive five-alarm fire erupted around 3:15 a.m., Ayers said.
The fire engulfed the large warehouse in the city's Kensington neighborhood early in the morning and raged for about two hours before being brought under control.
Flames poured from the windows of the multi-floor structure as fire personnel poured water on it from all sides. Hot embers from the main fire blew to nearby structures, causing small fires that damaged six homes.
Fire trucks lined the streets near the fire scene for hours after the blaze was brought under control.
Bricks and debris were scattered on the roads surrounding the fire scene, where much of the warehouse had collapsed. Much of the outer walls of the warehouse had crumpled to the ground by the time the fire was extinguished.
Firefighters who initially arrived at the scene encountered heavy flames with four additional alarms sounded soon after, Deputy Commissioner Ernest Hargett Jr. said.
Police began banging on the doors of nearby homes shortly after the fire was reported. No injuries were reported among the displaced.
The Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania set up a shelter nearby and offered aid to about two dozen people who had been forced from their homes. By 10:30 a.m., most had left to see if their homes had been damaged.
Twenty-nine minutes after the fire was brought under control an alarm went out for entrapped firefighters.
Hargett said five firefighters were inside the furniture store when it collapsed. It took a couple of hours to get all of them out, he said.
Two of those firefighters were killed, the other three injured with one admitted to a hospital. The extent of that firefighter's injuries were not immediately clear.
"They were all trapped at some point and firefighters effected a rescue to get them out," Hargett said.
Mayor Michael Nutter offered his condolences to the families of the deceased.
"Our first responders — our fire fighters, police officers and paramedics — are heroes and make unimaginable sacrifices each and every day for the citizens of Philadelphia. I would like to thank them for their service and our hearts go out to those who have lost their colleagues and friends," he said in a statement.
Ayers said the department last lost a firefighter in 2006. The last time it lost multiple firefighters on a single call was 2004.
"We're getting a lot of support, just as we give service to our citizens, they're serving us right now," Ayers said.