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Fire Damages Pottstown Apartment Building

26 reported displaced from their homes after electrical fire at Yorkshire Apartments

An electrical fire in a Pottstown apartment building on Saturday evening displaced a reported 26 people and rendered the 35-unit complex at least temporarily uninhabitable. 

Pottstown Boro Fire Chief Richard Lengel said an "accidental electrical fire" began inside the walls of a kitchen in a second-floor unit at the Yorkshire Apartments, and that the fire was confined to that unit. The fire was dispatched at 7:49 p.m., according to the incident status page of the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety. 

There were no injuries, Lengel said, but the residents of the building were evacuated to the main hall of the nearby Pottstown German Club.

"The building is going to be empty for a while," Lengel said, while its services and facilities are "checked out."

Starting around 10:00 p.m., as fire crews from surrounding departments were released from the scene, officials began to allow a few residents at a time to briefly re-enter the building to collect some personal belongings.

Dave Schrader, director of communications for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Red Cross, said on his Twitter account that 26 people had been displaced by the fire. All but four had secured alternative lodging, Schrader said, and the Red Cross was assisting the others.

A resident of the building who spoke with Patch on the condition that he not be identified said he believed he had accidentally started the fire and had given a statement to that effect to Pottstown Police.

According to the resident, who said he lived in a second-floor apartment, he was cooking dinner when he saw a cockroach on his stove. He said he attempted to kill the cockroach with his hand, but missed, and the insect scurried behind the stove. The man said he then poured some of the contents of a bottle of Clorox bleach behind the stove in an attempt to kill the cockroach. It was at this point, he said, that he "heard an electrical short." 

The resident said he then saw fire and smoke inside an electrical outlet behind the stove. He had not previously been aware that there was an electrical outlet there, he said. Smoke then started to come out of the stove's ventilation fan, he said. At that point, he turned off the main electrical breaker in his apartment, but he "could hear it in the walls," he said.

He attempted to use his cell phone to call 9-1-1, he said, but the call would not go through, so he notified a neighbor that his "apartment was on fire" and asked them to call 9-1-1, which they did.

"I'm probably going to get evicted now," he said. The man said he had another place to stay on Saturday night.

Aside from describing the fire as starting in a second-floor apartment kitchen, Lengel declined to corroborate or otherwise comment on the resident's version of events.

 

Earlier updates below.

UPDATE 11:13 p.m.: The Pottstown Fire Company chief has released a statement saying that there were no known injuries in the fire tonight. The building will, however remain uninhabitable for at least 24 hours.

The chief said that the services in the apartment building are being checked by local utility crews, such as PECO which has been seen on scene.

The chief reports that the fire was accidental, and that it started inside a second-floor apartment's kitchen. He would neither confirm nor deny the story a male resident of the second floor told Patch earlier, that he'd started the fire trying to kill a cockroach.

The 35-unit apartment is still being scanned for damage and to ensure all utilities are working properly. The fire was reported by the chief to be confined to the apartment in which it started.

The fire chief said he was not sure how many people resided in the 35 units, but that there were no injuries.

UPDATE 10:58 p.m.: According to the fire chief and radio reports, all units are being released. A single engine and ladder truck may remain behind as a precaution.

The reports state that the Yorkshire Apartment building will now be turned back over to the property managers to handle. 

All remaining units at the scene are now being released and may leave the scene.

UPDATE 10:54 p.m.: Radio reports indicate that fire crews are seeking the Yorkshire Apartments maintenance crews again in order to shut down the building.

Fire crews are waiting, according to radio reports, to be sure that all of the building is clear before the shut-down begins. That fact has not yet been confirmed.

The Red Cross continues to aid with the displaced residents at The German Club on Reynolds.

UPDATE 10:24 p.m.: It appears residents are being permitted to return into some units. Residents are being placed in small groups, and are only permitted inside in order to pick up a few small items.

They still will not be permitted to stay in the apartments tonight in order to sleep. The Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania has responded to the scene and is assisting residents. They will be making arrangements for temporary shelter for the Yorkshire Apartment inhabitants.

UPDATE 10:04 p.m.: Red Cross trucks have arrived at the scene. They are being directed by fire crews to report to The German Club. Apartment residents have gathered at the club to check-in for safety purposes. 

Residents' family and friends are also now permitted to pick up stranded residents at The German Club to provide a ride or shelter for the night.

UPDATE 9:53 p.m.: A Pottstown borough offical was at the scene of the fire. He reports that the water main seems fine, and has since left the area. Water has since stopped gushing from nearby sidewalks.

The water main does not appear at this time to be an issue.

Radio reports state that PECO Energy is at the scene now to investigate electricity and its lines to the apartment building. It is reported that the lights are still on both in- and outside the building, and that power has, at this hour, not been cut off from Yorkshire Apartments.

UPDATE 9:27 p.m.: Residents at the scene are reportedly being told that they may not be able to return to their apartments tonight. The severity of the fire is not yet known, but crews are reporting that tomorrow is likely the earliest residents may return.

Alternative places to stay have not yet been released, and it is unknown where residents will spend the night.

The water company for the area has been called and will be responding shortly to the water main break in the area.

UPDATE 9:18 p.m.: Crews at the scene are reportedly unhooking hoses. The fire seems to be contained or no longer active. No official report has yet been released.

According to radio reports, crews fear a water main in the same area may now be broken. The fire department is attempting to reach Pottstown Borough, as water is seeping up from the sidewalk around York and Reynolds streets.

The borough will investigate the matter. It is not yet clear if the break was a result of the same incident. More information will be updated as it is made available. 

UPDATE 9:05 p.m.: A man at the scene, who asked for his name to be withheld, has indentified himself as a resident of the apartments. He said that he believes he accidentally started the apartment fire.

This man has given his name and statement to investigating police. He told Patch that he believes he started the blaze when he was cooking dinner.

The male reports that he saw a cockroach on his stove while he was preparing his meal, and attempted to "punch it" but missed. He they alledges that the cockroach slid behid the stove.

The man told Patch that he then poured Clorox bleach down behind the stove in order to kill the bug. After pouring, he says he heard an "electrical short," and moved the stove away to see what caused the sound. He reported to Patch that he "did not know" the outlet was there.

Upon moving his appliance, the man said that he could see smoke and fire coming from the electrical outlet. He said smoke began to come out of the walls.

The man then attempted to call 9-1-1 on his personal PCS mobile phone, but could not reach them. He then went to a neighbor's home and asked them to call the police, which they did.

Official statements about the fire's cause have not yet been released. No flames are currently visible from the scene. Crews are currently clearing each floor, to check for any fire or damage.

The apartment building is reportedly at the corner of Farmington and Reynolds, despite previous DPS reports.

The building has been evacuated. 

UPDATE 8:44 p.m.: Emergency crews are requesting that all residents of the apartment building check into the German Club, 52 Reynolds Ave., to ensure their safety. Fire crews are checking in residents at the club in order to be sure each has made it out safely.

Once a resident has checked in, they are free to leave the Club, and do not need to stay on the grounds.

The original story is below:

The Montgomery County Department of Public Safety computer-aided dispatch system is currently reporting a fire in the area of York Street and East Eighth Street in Pottstown.

Multiple units are responding for this two-alarm fire at this hour. Montgomery County Emergency Fire Radio reports that residents of the apartment building in that area are being moved to The German Club.

PECO Engery has been alerted to the emergency, and crews from stations as far away as Plymouth and Limerick are standing by to assist in the blaze. Police are in the process of trying to reach the apartment building's maintenance department now.

A Patch reporter is en route to the scene, and more updates will be posted as they are made available. 

Tom Bartman September 30, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Chlorine bleach (Clorox) does introduce electrolytes and raises the conductivity of an electrical circuit so the initial story, as a cause, stands some ground.
Melissa Treacy (Editor) September 30, 2012 at 03:28 AM
I'm just a tad surprised that was his go-to bug killer.

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