Investigators find possible cause of fire

Philadelphia fire investigators have traced the origin of last month’s six-alarm blaze in Frankford to a wood-burning stove or heater inside a multi-use commercial property.

Meanwhile, the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection said last week that the same property has had a history of fire code violations dating back months and that as recently as last December, the landlord was illegally renting portions of the building for residential use.

In a printed statement, L&I revealed on Feb. 24 that the agency’s inspectors evacuated an undisclosed number of residents from 4619 Griscom St./1535 Orthodox St. on Dec. 10, about five weeks prior to the Feb. 13 fire that engulfed the property as well as more than a half-dozen neighboring buildings. One firefighter, a mother and her young child were each hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries as a result of the disaster, but there were no deaths.

Firefighters battled frigid temperatures and high winds for four-and-a-half hours to control the flames and remained at the scene for more than a day-and-a-half to prevent additional flare-ups. The site is an L-shaped property with street frontage on both Griscom and Orthodox. The L&I statement reported that a city inspector visited the property 10 weeks before the fire and saw residents living in deplorable conditions, including holes in the ceiling and floor, crumbling walls, insect and rodent infestation, significant plumbing leaks, the absence of “life protection” systems and a missing window. The property was not zoned for residential use and the landlord had no rental license. The owner was cited with violations and ordered to bring the property into compliance.

When an inspector returned to the site, there were no improvements. The inspector instructed residents to find alternative housing, but allowed them time to make those arrangements. Two weeks later, on Dec. 10, an inspector visited the site again, ensured that all residents had evacuated and posted a “cease order” for residential use of the property. The commercial use of the property continued. A sign on the Griscom Street facade identified the place as Joe’s Auto Body. The repair shop collapsed in the fire.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, L&I also inspected the property in 2007, found illegal apartments, ordered residents to vacate and issued a cease operations order. But by late last year, the site had become an active apartment building again, L&I said.

Authorities have announced no criminal charges in connection with the fire or alleged code violations. ••