One Year Ago Today: The Kensington Warehouse Fire That Left Two Dead–and Didn’t Have to Happen

Neighbors knew the abandoned Thomas Buck hosiery factory at the corner of Jasper and York in Kensington was a fire hazard. Jeff Carpineta, president of the East Kensington Neighborhood Association, told Hidden City Daily reporter Ryan Briggs about the way the building was falling apart. On March 30, 2012, Hidden City published these words:

Carpineta fears that arson might claim the building, like similar structures that have burned in recent years.

A little more than a week later, the building burst into flame, claiming the life to two firefighters, Lt. Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney, who fought the blaze.

Carpineta and and members of EKNA tried to take care of the trash and debris that collected around the building, which had been stripped of copper. Other residents were equally dismayed. Christopher Sawyer, anti-blight activist and Kensington resident, wrote on his blog philadelinquency:

Several months prior to [the fire], myself and other residents near the factory complex had complained of L&I (Phila. Department of Licenses & Inspections) violations at the Thomas Buck Hosiery Factory. L&I made trips to the site, sent out NOVs (Notice of Violations), and without warning, the whole complex went up in flames.

The chief reason? The perimeter of the complex was not sealed, so it was easy for vagrants and vandals to enter and exit. The [owners] had been warned about the complex repeatedly. They also received email complaints through their then-attorney who was handling their affairs.

The owners were Brooklyn-based Yechiel and Michael Lichtenstein of YML Realty Holdings. Initially, the company was planning to transform the building into apartments and offices and even got approval from their plan from EKNA’s zoning committee. But then the project stalled for three years, supposedly because of funding issues, and the Lichtensteins refused to take care of the property despite repeated entreaties.

Most gallingly, YML Realty owed the city thousands of dollars in back taxes, code violations and liens, but remained in Brooklyn rather than appear in court. The Lichtensteins continue to own other property in the Philadelphia area.

The memorial today will be at noon at City Hall. From CBS 3:

Firefighters Local 22 President Bill Gault says, “Seems April is a very tragic month for us in the fire department — three in one year — it’s become very dangerous again.”

The Kensington warehouse had received several citations from the city’s licenses and inspections, and Gault says one year later nothing has changed; still, he says, there are too many vacant buildings and death traps.

“We still don’t have any findings from the grand jury, and the houses are still out there, the vacants are still out there, the death traps are still out there.”

Passing the Buck by Ryan Briggs [Hidden City Daily]
Buck Hosiery Building Burns, Two Firefighters Killed [Hidden City Daily]
Lichtenstein Update: Civil Cases Stayed and City Law Department Fucks Up [philadelinqency]
Memorial At City Hall Today For Fallen Firefighters