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City says scene of Kensington junkyard fire cited multiple times, owners taken to court

Update on Tuesday night's big junkyard fire at Tulip and Somerset Streets in Kensington.

Firefighters work to put out a fire at a junk yard in Kensington July 11.
Firefighters work to put out a fire at a junk yard in Kensington July 11.Read moreMEGHAN BOBROWSKY

The Kensington junkyard that was the site of a spectacular fire that burned out of control for three hours Tuesday night has been cited for code violations multiple times during the last 10 years, according to public records, and is the subject of a court case in which the city is seeking "strict" fines and penalties, city officials said Wednesday.

The citations by the Department of Licenses and Inspections included alleged violations for "mislabeled storage containers" and "excessive collection of tires," a city spokeswoman said. Two hearings  have been held since the city filed the action in Common Pleas Court in February, and a third hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30.

Owners of the junkyard, Philadelphia Metal & Resource Recovery, declined to comment.

Neighborhood residents said the junkyard, at Tulip and Somerset Streets, has been a longstanding problem.

"This junkyard has been a nuisance," said Jamie Moffett, adding that it attracts homeless people who sell scrap to the yard. "I'm really sad it happened this way, but I'm glad people are finally paying attention."

The fire, which was still burning Wednesday afternoon, created billows of dark smoke that could be seen for miles, and gave off the stench of burning chemicals and fouled the air.

The Clean Air Council called the fire a "preventable pollution disaster," saying hourly concentrations of fine particulate matter in the area rose far above federal standards.

Rebekah Wilcox, who lives in the neighborhood with her 5-year-old daughter, who has asthma, said she didn't realize a fire of this magnitude could happen there.

"I'm concerned about everything," she said after hearing explosions from what she thinks were cars with gas still in the tanks. "I want the junkyard shut down."

Officials said the 30-foot-high scrap pile — on property bounded on one side by train tracks that lead to freight terminals along the Delaware River — consisted mainly of metal, wood, plastic, and paper. The property was not directly adjacent to any homes and firefighters contained the blaze to the site.

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

During several inspections by L&I this year, the site was cited numerous times for the mislabeled storage containers, excessive collection of tires, and a fence that required repair, according to the city.

The city believes those violations did not directly lead to the fire but was "exceedingly concerned with the excessive storage, which, if there was a fire, could lead to a more intense and substantial conflagration."

There were no fatalities, but one firefighter reportedly suffered a non-life-threatening injury from a fall at the site. The investigation is continuing, said Battalion 10 Chief Joseph Montague.

Not everyone wants to see the junkyard go.

Carlos Mosley, 47, a former garbage man who said he has been homeless for four months, said he makes regular trips to the junkyard, selling scraps of metal and other items for money. He can make up to $60 a day doing that.

"A lot of people rely on this place," Mosley said. "I'm sad to see something like this happen."