CONSHOHOCKEN -- Firefighters from three different counties worked through the night to control an eight-alarm fire that started in the late afternoon yesterday in a Conshohocken apartment complex.
According to authorities, the fire started in a vacant building that was under construction next to the Riverwalk at Millennium apartment complex at 203 Washington St. before moving on to several other buildings in the complex that were inhabited by residents.
"The building where the fire started was under construction and was a wood-framed building. It has collapsed. That building was like a lumber yard essentially," said Tom Sullivan, director of public safety for Montgomery County. "The immense heat is what caused the fire to travel from building to building as the tremendous heat set the attics on fire."
Sullivan said there were more than 300 firefighters on the scene, including several from Chester and Delaware counties who were called in to help during the night.
"The fire is not yet under control but it is contained. We don't know when it will be under control but we will be working all night," said Sullivan at approximately 8:30 last night. "Four to five buildings have been damaged and some have collapsed. The damage is extensive."
There were only two reported injuries, as one firefighter and one resident were given medical care. The extent of the injuries were not divulged.
It was also not known how many animals were successfully rescued, although some were taken to a local shelter to be claimed by their owners.
Milli Hahn, who has lived at Riverwalk for two years, was left to watch the fire from the sidewalk after being hustled out of her apartment.
"I was sitting in my room getting ready to go to the doctor and the alarm went off, I think around 4:40 p.m.," Hahn said. "Then people came and were knocking on all the doors telling us we had to get out so we just all went down the stairs and left."
In all, the blaze reportedly affected 375 Riverwalk residents in 150 units; the complex was evacuated before the fire spread.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Red Cross opened a service center at Spring Mill Fire Company to help those who were displaced.
The organization is providing food and drinks to firefighters and 200 other people, according to Meghan Shaginaw, with the Red Cross. Help is also available for residents with medical needs, such as prescription medications, and cash for clothing and meals were also being distributed, Shaginaw said. The Red Cross is working with the apartment building's management to arrange accommodations for displaced residents.
Developer Brian O'Neill, the owner of the building that caught fire as well as several others along Washington Street, was also making an effort to get the evacuees into warm beds for the night.
"Our focus is on finding food and hotel rooms for these people, and keeping the firemen fed. We are very grateful to all the fire companies who have been working," said O'Neill. "The single fact that I am most grateful for is that no one was (seriously) injured. Buildings can be replaced but people can't."
O'Neill said the building that caught fire was only 20 percent complete at the time of the fire. O'Neill also owns the Millenium Complex that sits next to Riverwalk, and said those buildings were damaged as well.
Conshohocken Chief of Police James Dougherty said that while the fire was a tragic event for the small borough of a square mile, he was sure that the people would be able to overcome it with each other's help.
"We have had about 50 people call in already and say they will bring anything out that we need. Everyone is helping, everyone is donating things," Dougherty said. "This is a very close-knit community here, being one square mile. Everyone helps everyone in Conshohocken."
An investigation into the cause of the fire was planned, and would be carried out as soon as firefighters were able to finally extinguish the blaze.
The monetary amount of damages is unknown.