The raging fire that swept through an apartment complex in northern Chester County late Thursday, leaving 150 people homeless, was still burning early Friday when neighbors began turning out in droves to help those in need.
For hours, folks poured into the North Coventry Township Fire Company to donate what quickly became a mountain of clothes, food, bedding, and even pet supplies for those who lost their apartments the night before.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Josh Park, a minister at nearby Branch Life Church, which is helping to manage what he called a “pop-up” donation center. “It’s more than enough, but it’s not stopping, and that’s OK.” Park said gift cards were also welcome, and that anything not taken by the fire victims would be donated to charities.
The fire at Ashwood Apartments on the 700 block of Worth Boulevard in North Coventry was reported at 7:20 p.m. Thursday. Thirty area departments battled the blaze, which was brought under control between 3 and 4 a.m. Friday, officials said.
The cause of the fire is not known, Erica Batdorf, the township manager, said Friday. One resident suffered critical injuries while three residents and three firefighters suffered minor injuries, she said.
Forty-three apartments were destroyed, displacing more than 100 people. Forty residents were being housed in two hotels and receiving meals from the Salvation Army, while the others were staying with relatives and friends, Batdorf said.
“This is a severe and significant trauma, and we’re trying to respond appropriately,” said Batdorf, who called the community’s response “tremendous.”
One of the fire victims, still wearing soot-stained clothing, arrived at the firehouse about noon. After Park gave him a quick orientation, the man started filling a bag with pastries and other food.
“I have a relative’s house to stay at,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “There’s nothing left. The second and third floor, you look through and there’s nothing there.”
Kathy Scully, a volunteer firefighter, said the donations started pouring in Thursday night. “We have donations coming in from all over. I mean, the community is wonderful,” she said.
The space, which in pre-coronavirus days had many uses, from bingo nights to wedding receptions, now resembles a market bazaar with tables overflowing with clothes, shoes, toiletries, blankets, baked goods, and children’s toys.
“Do you need handbags?” Karen Culp asked a volunteer before placing a bag containing several purses in a pile of donated items in the firehouse parking lot near the front door.
Culp, a third-grade teacher from Upper Merion, also dropped off a bag of toys. “I teach my students to give back to the community and to become superheroes,” she said. “That’s our theme all year long in school, so I like to give back too and be a model for my students.”
The donations were so voluminous that shortly after 1 p.m., organizers stopped accepting them. “We’re becoming a fire hazard at the fire station,” Park said.