Destructive fire at Jim’s Steaks caused by electrical issue

Fire officials say faulty electrical wiring led to a smoky two-alarm blaze that shut down South Street.

Firefighters putting out a fire that broke out at Jim's Steaks on South St. July 29, 2022.

Firefighters putting out a fire that broke out at Jim's Steaks on South St. July 29, 2022. (Lauren Ingeno/WHYY News)

Philadelphia fire officials say an issue with electrical wiring led to a massive fire Friday at Jim’s Steaks on South Street. The Fire Department confirmed the update in a tweet Monday.

The landmark restaurant best known for its cheesesteaks was severely damaged in a two-alarm fire, but the owner is vowing to rebuild the culinary icon.

Assistant manager Christina Lawlor knew there were problems when she went in to start the business day shortly after 7 a.m.

“It was very hot in there when I first walked in. So I called my boss and I said, Hey, something’s going on. It’s like 80 degrees here and normally it’s cold.”

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An air conditioning contractor was called and Lawlor went about setting up for the business day.

Lawlor said at about 10 o’clock they found the issue in a freezer area.

“We looked up and we saw smoke coming down from where the walk-in is. It was just smoke pouring down.”

At first, firefighters went into the building but were pulled out after about an hour.  Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said they were cautious after the collapse of another fast-food restaurant that resulted in the death of a firefighter in June.

“So we switched to what’s called an exterior or a defensive attack, which essentially means that we are confining the fire to the building of origin.”

The fire wasn’t placed under control until they were sure it hadn’t traveled into a neighboring building.

Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel speaking at the scene of a fire at Jim’s Steaks on South St. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Thiel said they brought in over 100 firefighters and support personnel to fight the blaze, and even though it will be listed as two alarms, a third was actually brought in to give relief because of the intense heat.

Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla came to the fire scene, leaving another meeting when he found out about it. He spoke to the owner and said he’s ready to rebuild, but the question at this point is whether he will have to start from scratch or if the current building can be rehabbed.

Squilla admits the restaurant is a big loss to the area, and even though no one was injured because of the fire directly, the business district will suffer.

“The injury goes a long way to not only South Street, but the entire city. You know, I talked to Kenny, the owner. He said he’s going to rebuild and come back, depending on how much damage is to that building and whether that needs to come down or can it be rehabbed? We don’t know yet.”

A full investigation into the fire will have to wait until all the smoke is cleared out. Thiel said there was plenty of cooking oil and other fuel for the flames to spread and the zero visibility from the thick black smoke was a major reason he pulled firefighters out from inside the structure.

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