Firefighters responded to reports of an explosion and fire at a tenement on South 8th Street about 11:30 a.m., Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel told reporters.
The heavy “gas-fed” fire, plus structural damage to three buildings, prevented firefighters from immediately determining whether people were trapped inside, Thiel said.
“We are still not sure what the occupancy status is of the fully collapsed building,” he said.
“This will be an extremely risky and dangerous operation … to perform a thorough search and hopefully rescue anybody who might be inside,” the commissioner added.
For much of Thursday afternoon, firefighters sprayed water on buildings engulfed in flames, according to news footage from the scene.
Plumes of white smoke rose over a row of tenements as firefighters on adjoining rooftops tried to prevent the blaze from spreading. Neighboring buildings were evacuated and power was shut off to the area, Thiel said. More than 100 firefighters and other first responders descended on the block.
The blaze was declared under control at 2:43 p.m., fire officials said via Twitter.
‘A lot of uncertainty’
Thiel said crews were dealing with an “active firefight” before commencing the search for possible trapped residents.
“We’re still trying to figure out how many people occupied these buildings, where they were when this occurred,” he said. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty.”
One damaged building is a commercial property, the commissioner said. Firefighters and police were going door-to-door to try to determine who might have been in the buildings.
On Thursday afternoon, utility crews were still digging up parts of the street to shut off gas valves, Thiel said.
“I really hope nobody died,” Dimatties said after discovering the nearby building collapse. “I hope they got them out. It felt like an earthquake.”
They tried reaching a man trapped in the rubble but were overcome by flames, Seccia told WPVI.