Northeast Times

Residents unable to return home after Fox Chase fire

  • There was over $4 million worth of fire and water damage, and repair work is proceeding slowly. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Most of the condos have significant damage.

  • George Tomezsko, a resident of the Pine Views Condominium in Fox Chase, points to his kitchen that was heavily damaged by a fire on Jan. 30.

Res­id­ents of a Fox Chase con­domin­i­um build­ing hit by a Jan. 30 fire are won­der­ing when they’ll be able to go home. They might not re­turn soon. Why is kind of a com­plic­ated story. 

George Tomez­sko, a res­id­ent of the Pine Views Con­domin­i­um, said June 4 that the oc­cu­pants of the 40 units in the build­ing off Ver­ree Road have had to find oth­er places to live while the condo’s homeown­ers as­so­ci­ation ne­go­ti­ated a set­tle­ment with its in­surer. Some are stay­ing with friends or fam­ily. Oth­ers, like him­self, are pay­ing to live else­where with funds sup­plied by their homeown­ers in­sur­ance policies.

But that money is run­ning out for some res­id­ents, and re­pair work is pro­ceed­ing slowly, he said.

Pro­gress is a func­tion of get­ting dol­lars from the con­domin­i­um’s in­sur­ance com­pany. Den­ise Collins, pres­id­ent of the Vil­lage of Pine Val­ley Homeown­ers As­so­ci­ation, said the or­gan­iz­a­tion re­tained an ad­juster to ne­go­ti­ate a set­tle­ment with its in­surer. A par­tial set­tle­ment was paid early this month, ac­cord­ing to both Collins and Tomez­sko.

While they’ve been un­able to live in their homes, res­id­ents have been re­quired to pay their monthly condo fees, said Tomez­sko. For him, that fee is more than $200 a month even though he’s been pay­ing $2,600 a month to live else­where. So far, he has not paid it, he said.

The Pine View Con­domin­i­um build­ing is part of the “over 55” Pine Val­ley com­munity off of Pennypack Park and be­hind CORA Ser­vices at Ver­ree and Susque­hanna. It is man­aged by Holy Re­deem­er Health Sys­tems, which was hired by the homeown­er’s as­so­ci­ation, said Collins.

Res­id­ents got a few minutes the day after the Jan. 30 fire to take what they could and leave, Tomez­sko said. He ad­ded that since they left, some res­id­ents have com­plained that jew­elry and oth­er items were stolen from their units. To test those stor­ies, Tomez­sko said he put a watch he didn’t value much out on a counter in Feb­ru­ary. It wasn’t there when he checked on it next.

At the end of last month, he said, he and some oth­er res­id­ents met with an at­tor­ney to ex­plore the pos­sib­il­ity of leg­al ac­tion.

NOT THE FIRST FIRE

The fire on Jan. 30 was the second in the condo build­ing in about five months, Tomez­sko said. He said a light­ning strike Sept. 2 sparked a blaze in the build­ing’s at­tic and that dam­aged a fourth-floor unit and three oth­ers. Work was be­ing done on those units when an­oth­er fire began Jan. 30.

Deputy Fire Chief Harry Ban­non, the city’s fire mar­shal, said the Sept. 2 blaze was, in­deed, caused by light­ning. The Jan. 30 fire was caused by smoking, Ban­non said. That blaze began in the bal­cony of the fourth-floor unit of 200 Ern­est Way — the same that was the first to be dam­aged in the Sept. 2 fire. Re­pairs to that unit and the three oth­ers dam­aged in the Septem­ber fire were al­most com­plete, Collins said dur­ing a June 6 phone in­ter­view.

Re­pairs, she said, “were a week or two from com­ple­tion.”

LONG PRO­CESS

The Jan. 30 fire caused a lot of dam­age, most of it from wa­ter, which came from both the build­ing’s sprink­ler sys­tem and from fire­fight­ers.

The first thing that had to be done, Collins said, was “dry out the build­ing.”

That step was time-con­sum­ing, she said, be­cause work­ers used large fans to blow in air to the build­ing and vent it.

“It was un­be­liev­able,” Collins said.

As the build­ing’s in­sur­ance com­pany has re­leased money, she said, “We’re do­ing work.”

Delay in the pro­cess is due to the fact that the in­sur­ance com­pany has been slow to re­lease funds.

“No one is happy with the pro­gress,” she said.

If there is a les­son in the condo own­er’s plight, it’s that it is im­port­ant to get in­sur­ance with good cov­er­age that will provide cash to live else­where in an emer­gency. Tomez­sko said his in­surer provided him with some cash, but it’s fi­nite. He said one of his neigh­bors has such good cov­er­age that there is no lim­it to the time she can ex­pect to have her ex­penses covered.

An­oth­er point, Collins said, is that it was a smart move for the homeown­ers as­so­ci­ation to hire an ad­juster. Any­one might see walls that need to be re­painted or rugs that need to be re­placed, she said, but a pro­fes­sion­al ad­juster un­der­stands “things you can’t see” and works to get the money to ad­dress those is­sues. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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