UPDATE at 10:40 p.m.
The Philadelphia Fire Department will continue to work overnight to neutralize a three-alarm fire that started Thursday afternoon at The Original Apostolic Faith Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, Inc. on Broad Street between Oxford and Jefferson, an official said.
No one was inside the building at the time of the fire and no civilians or firefighters have been injured. The cause of the fire is unknown, and it is too soon to determine if the cause is suspicious, Philadelphia Fire Department Commissioner Adam Thiel said at a press conference Thursday night.
There is still smoke and heat in the building, so flare ups are possible. The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections used equipment to make holes in the building so the fire department could put more water into the building’s lower floors, Thiel said.
Officials from L&I will return to the scene Friday morning, Thiel said.
Officials believe the source of the fire is on the first floor or below ground, but they are unsure if the building has a basement because they don’t have the plans to the building. Crews will have to decide on Friday if the fire department can start a cause of origin investigation.
“We can see through the holes in the side of the building and some of the windows that we removed, but other than that, we still don’t know what’s going on inside that building,” Thiel said. “There still is some smoke, which indicates there’s fire in there somewhere. So we’re going to continue to put water on it all night and hopefully we can get in there tomorrow, but there are no guarantees.”
The department was dispatched to the fire at 2:27 p.m., Thiel said. Ten minutes later, the fire was determined to be a two-alarm blaze. The third alarm rang at 3:03 p.m., he said.
The first arriving companies made it through the front door, but they were forced out by the heat. Fires like the one at the church can reach ceiling temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but firefighters’ gear is rated up to about 700-800 degrees, Thiel said.
Officials don’t believe there are threats of exterior building collapses, but interior collapses have happened and will likely continue overnight as the weight of the building increases due to additional water, Thiel said.
“Most likely we’ll be here for days,” Thiel said. “We won’t be putting water on the fire for days, but we’ll be here for days.”
Authorities responded to a three-alarm fire at 1512 N. Broad St., according to a TUAlert sent around 3 p.m. on Thursday.
The address of the fire is The Original Apostolic Faith Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, Inc. on Broad Street between Oxford and Jefferson.
No one was in the building at the time of the fire, officials said.
Capt. William Dixon said 125 officers responded to the fire at a press conference across the street from the fire.
About 70 people who live behind the church on Carlisle Street, including students, were evacuated from their homes.
The fire caused officials to close North Broad Street between Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Thompson Street, according to a tweet from the Philadelphia Fire Department.
UPDATE: About 50 apparatus and 120 firefighters are responding to the fire on North Broad Street, which is closed between Cecil B Moore and Thompson. Please avoid the area.
— Philadelphia Fire (@PhillyFireDept) March 29, 2018
Dixon said SEPTA’s Broad Street Line could experience flooding and smoke from the fire.
“We are supporting the Philadelphia Fire Department and Police Department in traffic and pedestrian control posts,” Charlie Leone, the executive director of Campus Safety Services, wrote in an email. “The PFD will be taking the lead in any information regarding the fire.”
Darren Danowitz, a sophomore media studies and production major, lives near the corner of Oxford and Carlisle streets, across the street from the fire.
He said the smoke blocked his vision five feet past his window.
“The entire place smelled like smoke,” Danowitz said. “I didn’t know if any carbon monoxide or chemicals we’re getting in there. My first instinct was to probably get out, and I did.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with the congregants of our neighbor, The Original Apostolic Faith Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. pic.twitter.com/BFEK4mIIof
— Temple Gov't Affairs (@TUGovtAffairs) March 29, 2018
Frederick Tookes, 59, said he is the oldest son of the church’s Bishop Ernest Tookes. He received a call around 2 p.m. from a nearby real estate developer to tell him the building was on fire.
Frederick Tookes said the last time people were in the building was for a Tuesday night service. The church was secured that night once the service ended, and “there was nothing wrong with the building” at the time, he added.
“We locked up, and there was nothing that could cause a fire of this nature,” Frederick Tookes said.
Worshippers were supposed to meet for service again Thursday evening, Frederick Tookes said. The church does not yet have a plan for where services will be relocated.
“As for now, we have nowhere,” Frederick Tookes said. “So we’re outdoors. As you can see, [firefighters] tried to save it, but whatever happened started in the back and worked its way. So that’s the nature of it. At this time, we hope that the fire marshals will do a thorough investigation.”
— Alexandra Y (@mzazyru) March 29, 2018
Will Bleier contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the day of the fire. It occurred on Thursday.