Ed. note: Check back to this story frequently for updates as they occur, including information about fundraisers for victims and donation locations at the bottom of the story.
At about 1 a.m. Sunday, a blaze described by one local resident as “one big ball of fire from one end of the street to the other” destroyed five homes on the 2800 block of Memphis Street.
No one was killed or seriously injured, but the fire has left 20 people, including four children under 12, without homes, said David Schrader, spokesman for the Southeast Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross, in a phone interview with Star on Monday.
Executive Fire Chief Richard Davison said on the phone Monday that the Fire Department received notification of the inferno at 1:09 a.m., and that the fire was placed under control at approximately 1:51 a.m. The fire began, Davison said, on the first floor of 2842 Memphis St., and spread to numbers 2840, 2844, 2846 and 2850.
“The fire is currently under investigation,” Davison said Monday.
Philadelphia Police Department Public Affairs Officer Jill Russell told Star on Tuesday that 2842 Memphis St. was set on fire Sunday morning by a 32-year-old male. Police have not yet determined what incendiary device was used. The arson, Russell said, occurred during a “domestic-related disturbance.” A witness identified the male as starting the fire, Russell said, adding that no further details were available on what the witness saw.
The man was not a resident of the house, Russell continued. He is listed as the offender on the offical police report, but his name is not being released at this time, and police are currently searching for him, Russell said.
Two homes on the block also were damaged by smoke. By Tuesday, most of the burnt homes had been sealed with wooden boards and notices of hazardous conditions had been posted, and some individuals were on site cleaning rubble away.
One family who was displaced by the fire, he continued, is staying at the Red Cross House, a temporary facility for people who have experienced a house fire. Those staying in the West Philadelphia house, Schrader said, get their own room and three meals a day, and remain there for an average of 21 days.
“As long as it takes them to get a new place,” he said.
Along with the responders from the Philadelphia Fire Department and the Red Cross, the Red Paw Relief Team arrived on the scene of the blaze as it was happening. Red Paw is “The Red Cross for animals,” said its founder Jen Leary.
The organization was notified of the blaze, Leary said, by the Philadelphia 2nd Alarmers Association, a nonprofit volunteer association that was on the scene. The Alarmers provide assistance to the police and fire departments.
“Anything that will displace a family, we’ll come in and assist with the animal, then work with clients depending on their needs,” Leary said Monday by phone.
Red Paw keeps displaced animals in foster care on an ongoing basis, as long as the animals’ owners remain in contact with the organization. During Sunday’s fire, Red Paw rescued a dog, Sheba, and a cat, Whitney, who belong to fire victim Nicole Frazier, 34.
Leary said both animals are doing great.
“Having the 2nd Alarmers and The Red Cross and the Salvation Army and the Fire Department know about out services, it helps them as well, because it’s one less thing for them to deal with in a fire,” Leary said.
After word of the fire spread throughout Port Richmond, organizations and individuals began to offer help.
A Facebook group, “Assistance for 2800 Memphis Street Fire Victims,” is providing information on the aftermath of the fire and what donations are needed.
Maryann Trombetta, president of the Port Richmond Town Watch, said she visited the block Sunday afternoon after seeing a report of the fire on the news, she said on the phone Monday.
She visited the block with Doug Black, Jr., a pastor at Destiny Church, which comprises a network of churches which meet all over the city.
The organization has set up a webpage for monetary and tax-deductible donations to the victims. Visit that page at destinychurchphilly.org/memphis-st.
“I knew Doug would know what to say to people who had been through something like this,” Trombetta said. “As we were standing there, I met Nicole [Frazier], and she said, ‘I wish I had a change of clothes.’ Doug went home and got a bag of clothes [for her] from his wife.”
According to Trombetta, the victims of the blaze can use whatever they can get.
What the victims need, she said, is “everything that you would take for granted,” — a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, clothing, men’s and women’s clothing, baby items, anything.
“Whatever you drop off, if these families can’t use it, [the churches] will find some family that can use it. Or take your money and go get Kmart or Walmart gift cards,” Trombetta said. “I honestly don’t think there’s anything you can’t help them with.”
Firm Hope Baptist Church, located at 2313 E. Auburn St., around the corner from where the fire took place, had already collected several pairs of shoes, boxes of toys, a bag of clothing, and a box filled with assorted kitchenwares for the displaced families by Tuesday afternoon.
The church is partnering with the L.O.V.E. (Ladies of Vivid Excellence) Social Club to hold a “community unity” event today, Wednesday, July 24, from 4 to 8 p.m. by the Sunoco gas station at Aramingo Avenue and Somerset Street in Port Richmond to collect donations for the displaced families.
Donations can be dropped off at the following locations:
In Port Richmond:
• Firm Hope Baptist Church, 2311-17 E. Auburn St., (215) 313-1231, from noon to 3 p.m. and 5:30 to 8 p.m.
• Mother of Divine Grace Day Camp, 2612 E. Monmouth St., (215) 429-7325, Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
• Memphis Street Academy Charter School, 2950 Memphis St., (215) 291-4709, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.
• The Port Richmond District Office of State Rep. John Taylor, 2901 E. Thompson St., (215) 425-0901, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
• liberti church, 2424 E. York St. (Entrance on Gordon St). (267) 908-3625, from Sunday - Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• Anthony’s Cafe, 319 E. Girard Ave. (At Oxford Street), (215) 634-0981.
The L.O.V.E. Social Club will also collect donations on Aug. 10 at noon, at Cione Playground, at Aramingo and Lehigh avenues. A gospel choir from Firm Hope Baptist Church will also perform at that event.
“I cannot believe that everybody got out,” Trombetta said. “One video [on the news] showed it was one big ball of fire from one end of the street to the other.”
Along with being glad no one was injured or killed in the blaze, Trombetta continued, she’s happy to see that neighborhood residents are responding to the tragedy by helping the victims.
“They just want to help out,” she said. “It’s the love of strangers.” ••