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FD: Wood-burning stove sparked 6-alarm fire

A wood-burning stove or heater sparked the six-alarm fire that roared through a Frankford building on Feb. 13, a Fire Department spokesman said Wednesday.

A wood-burning stove or heater sparked the six-alarm fire that roared through a Frankford building on Feb. 13, a Fire Department spokesman said Wednesday.

Executive Fire Chief Clifford Gilliam said he did not know where the stove was located in the building and did not know if anyone would face any charges or penalties.

The fire occurred in an L-shaped building with fronts at both 4619 Griscom Street, which on its brick-face said it housed Joe's Auto Body shop, and at 1535 Orthodox Street, around the corner.

The fire, which started about 9:30 a.m. and was put under control about 4 1/2 hours later, displaced 21 people who lived near the building, sent one firefighter to the hospital, and damaged seven or eight buildings, most of them commercial. The firefighter has since been released from the hospital.

The auto shop collapsed.

The building's owner is listed as the Samuel Rappaport Family. The ownership is related to the late Sam Rappaport, who owned dozens of run-down buildings in the city.

The building had been cited for numerous violations through the years, including fire-code issues and one citation for accumulated combustible waste, city records show.

Karen Guss, a spokeswoman with the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections, said the Orthodox Street side of the building, where it was two stories, had illegal residences on the second floor. The Griscom Street side was one story.

"It was not legal to have rooms there," she said. "It was not zoned, not permitted, it wouldn't have passed necessary inspections there."

L&I records list more than two dozen violations at the building, some dating to 2007.

Upon finding unapproved residences in the building in 2007 and 2015, L&I issued cease orders on the illegal residences.

In 2007, the living space was vacated after the cease order, Guss said. Then, L&I did spot checks through 2015, she said.

Last year, "we found that people were living there again," she said.

Guss said when an L&I inspector went to the property on Sept. 25, the female inspector couldn't get in and looked through a window and saw a "commercial space" with "items that looked potentially flammable and didn't look properly stored." The inspector issued violations on the property, Guss said.

The inspector returned on Sept. 30 and couldn't get into the commercial space, but was able to get into the residential space and saw fire-code violations, Guss said. The inspector found five rooms upstairs, a shared kitchen and bathroom and "everything in terrible condition," said Guss. She again issued violations by mailing paperwork to the owner of record, Guss said.

According to city records, the owner is S R Frankford General Partnership with a mailing address under the name of Samuel Rappaport and a PO Box in New Hope.

The inspector returned again on Nov. 24 and saw occupants inside, Guss said. She distributed intent-to-cease letters in the rooms, Guss said.

Then, on Dec. 1, the inspector got a call from a man who would not identify himself, Guss said.

"He says he's not the owner, but he's responsible for the property and he does not have any intention with complying with the violations," Guss said.

The inspector then returned on Dec. 10 and issued a cease order, putting up a big sign saying residential occupancy was prohibited, and evacuated the building, Guss said. Throughout, the local police district was notified of the various cease orders, she said.

Guss said L&I inspectors believe no one was living in the illegal second-floor rooms of the building on Feb. 13.

In a statement Wednesday, L&I Commissioner David Perri said: "The L&I inspector was thorough and persistent and used good professional judgment in evacuating the illegal rental space. Especially with no fire alarm there, her actions may have saved lives."