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Fire Rips Through Wyncote Condo Complex

Fire may have started in stove of third floor unit; Cheltenham High School set up as temporary Red Cross shelter; up to 150 displaced

A four-alarm fire heavily damaged a condominium complex and displaced up to 150 people in the Wyncote section of Cheltenham on Friday night.

No official estimates were available early Saturday morning on the number of people injured in the fire at 1600 Church Road, which was reported at about 9:23 p.m. Friday. Alertpage reported that three firefighters had received minor injuries and that three other patients were transported from the scene. Close to 200 firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and other emergency responders were believed to have responded to the fire, which turned the night sky orange in the residential neighborhoods surrounding the complex.

Photo Gallery: Wyncote Fire

At least 50 condominiums were impacted, according to Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, CEO of the Southeast Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross. Hughes said she understood that the fire had started in a stove in a third-floor unit of the complex.

The Red Cross was preparing to receive up to 150 people who were believed to have been displaced by the fire, though the exact number of people impacted was difficult to assess because the building is heavily occupied by students from nearby Arcadia University. An undetermined number of students were believed to have been away for the weekend.

As crews battled the fire, calls went out on emergency radio channels for additional fire crews and EMS units from around the region. Shortly before 11:00 p.m., reports on Montgomery County public safety radio indicated that the fire scene had been escalated to a "level 4 mass casualty" incident, which the county's incident response plan defines as involving at least 50 "victims."

Sources told Patch that an indeterminate number of people were transported or otherwise referred to Abington Memorial Hospital from the scene.

Fire crews continued to pour water on a smoldering section of the building at 1:45 a.m. Saturday. The fire wasn't declared under control until shortly before 3:00 a.m.

As of 2:00 a.m., the Red Cross reported that about 30 people displaced by the fire were at Cheltenham High School, which the agency had set up as a temporary shelter.

"Our goal is to keep people comfortable ... we're prepared to stay as long as necessary," Hughes said. "Disaster response requires us to be very flexible and adaptable."

Hughes asked those who wished to assist with the disaster response to make a donation at the agency's website or by sending the text message "REDCROSS" to 90999.

Earlier story and updates below.

Update 12:00 a.m. The fire continues to burn and graduated to a fourth alarm at about 11:30 p.m. There were scattered reports on emergency channels that some significant section of the building's roof has collapsed.

The Red Cross continues to stage its disaster response center at Cheltenham High School. We have a reporter arriving at the scene there and hope to be able to provide additional information shortly.

Update 11:10 p.m. As many as 40 housing units and 100 residents have been affected by the fire, according to Red Cross spokesperson Sara Smith.

The agency is setting up a reception center at Cheltenham High School. Anyone affected by the fire is asked to report there for assistance and information.

Update 10:55 p.m. Emergency officials have declared a "mass casualty level 4" at the fire scene.

According to the Montgomery County Major Incident Response Plan, a "Level 4" mass casualty involves at least 50 victims, with victims possibly numbering into the hundreds. Level 4 incidents call for at least 30 ambulances to be dispatched to the scene.

All emergency personnel have been ordered to evacuate the building.

Initial story below.

Multiple victims have reportedly been rescued from a three-alarm fire that was burning through the top story of a condominium complex in the Wyncote section of Cheltenham Township on Friday night.

The complex is about 150 yards from the campus of Arcadia University and is a popular off-campus housing location for students.

The Philadelphia chapter of the Red Cross said it was sending a disaster team to the scene.

The Breaking News Network, a service that monitors emergency radio channels, reported shortly before 10:00 p.m. that at least three victims had been removed from the building and that at least one had suffered burns. Matt Simanky of WPVI-TV (6-ABC) reported seeing victims being transported on stretchers at the scene.

A Montgomery County public safety radio transmission at about 10:20 p.m. requested all available emergency medical service units at the scene to bring their litters to the fire's command post.

The fire was dispatched at 9:23 p.m. on Friday, according to online records from Montgomery County's computer-aided dispatch system.

Jim Butt October 15, 2012 at 01:49 AM
The residents displaced by this terrible fire still need help. If you are able to donate cash, gift cards, or other items, please visit the website at www.cheltenhamhelps1600.org. Thanks.
Caron Scott October 16, 2012 at 04:10 PM
I am writing on behalf of Bldg A displaced people. They need help. They are homeless and there is no aid for them. Their units are padlocked because the fire marshall stated that the wall in Bldg B needs to besecure before the tenants can move back in their units. The fire was Oct 5th. The Red cross put these tenants, approx 6 units--- in hotel from Oct 10-13th which was veryl kind; because most did not have anyplace to go. They were allowed in their units by mgt only once. They are currently padlocked. I am a veteran calling on behalf of a veteran who owns one of the units and is living in his car. It seems to me that the wall should have been secured by now; to allow these displaced tenants back into their condo's. I have taken pictures and I see nothing being done to secure that wall. What are these people to do. I have called fire marshall, Bldg Inspector, and left messages. Please try to help them. My name is Caron Scott. I am friends to the Veteran who lives in Bldg A, Unit A205. He lived with my family for a couple days. But he is a proud veteran and I am a veteran and that is just how we are. He is waiting this out. Caron Scott, 215-823-5800 Ext 5324 or cell 484-664-0695. Tenant varnell Harley Bldg A, Unit 205, 1600 church Rd. cell: 267-2085-0348 Please anything you can do will help.

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