Crews Battled 4-Alarm Fire at Apartment Building Near Rittenhouse Square

UPDATE: Blaze at 21st and Locust said to be under control.

Photos | Joel Mathis

Photos | Joel Mathis

[Update 7:50 p.m.] The Philadelphia Fire Department said via Twitter the blaze was under control:

Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer told reporters that the first alarm for the fire came at 5:30 p.m.: A fire crew found a fire in the basement and quickly extinguished it. But minutes later, a fire on an upper floor was discovered, and additional units called in. At its height, 120 firefighters were involved. Two were taken to a nearby hospital with minor injuries.

“We don’t know if it was two separate fires, or if it started in the basement and spread to the roof,” Sawyer said. “We need to do an investigation.”

The cold was a brutal challenge, Sawyer said, creating frostbite dangers and dexterity challenges for firefighters battling the blaze. “The weather was challenging because of the subcold temperatures. The water lines freeze … if you don’t keep the water flowing, the water lines can freeze up,” he said, and added: “Fighting fires is challenging on a nice normal day.”

He said fire crews would be on the scene throughout the night, putting out the remains of the fire and waiting to enter the structure to find out the cause of the blaze. “It will be a long night,” he said.

[Original 7:01 p.m.] Fire crews are fighting a blaze at an apartment building near Rittenhouse Square, reportedly at 2122 Locust, in Center City tonight. The fire reportedly broke out at 5:35 p.m.

Crews are battling winds and extreme cold as they attempt to get the fire under control. Clifford Gilliam, a spokesman for the fire department, said it was a four-alarm fire as of 6:40 p.m. He was heading to the scene of the fire when we talked to him. “At this time, we have no reported injuries.”

Shortly after we spoke with Gilliam, NBC 10 reported that a firefighter has been hospitalized during the effort.

The Red Cross said via Twitter that it had set up a reception center for those affected by the fire at Trinity Church, 22nd and Spruce streets. Samantha Phillips, Philly’s director of emergency management, confirmed the report.

Fire companies were staging along 22nd Street, north of Spruce. Evening commuter traffic was backed up along the street, and was being diverted west along Spruce, causing additional overflow traffic on 23rd Street as well.

A ladder truck at the scene was extended, allowing firefighters to direct a spray down on the blaze. But flames were spilling out the building’s backside, and the conflagration sent up a plume of smoke that towered over Center City.

Firefighters also had to battle bitterly cold weather as they fought the blaze — the 7 p.m. temperature was 26 degrees. Puddles forming around the fire hydrants were quickly icing over, making for tricky footing in the streets nearest the fire. At least one firefighter was seen spreading salt on the ground near a truck.

Listen to the Fire Dispatch here.

Film from 21st/Locust Fire.

A video posted by Joel Mathis (@joelmmathis) on

Fox 29’s Chris O’Connell was on the scene recording live via Facebook.

Here’s stunning aerial video.

6 ABC also has video:

The Philadelphia Fire Department was even posting live pictures to its own Twitter feed:

This is an evolving story.

Joel Mathis and Holly Otterbein contributed to this report.