Chris Wilson of Graham’s Pub in Roxborough awoke early Monday morning to a warning signal from his restaurant’s surveillance system that the phone lines had been disabled.
The surveillance video showed smoke underneath the outside overhang of his business, but nothing more. His initial thought: Somebody threw a lit cigarette in a trash can. Still, he knew he had to head over to the pub to check the situation out.
“I came out here with the impression that it would be something relatively small but when I walked in [the fire] was fully engaged.”
Around 4 a.m., as he neared the pub, he hit a traffic backup on Ridge Avenue. When he got to the shopping center parking lot, he saw six fire trucks and about 60 firefighters on the scene.
“I saw them cutting the trench in the cigar store which prevented the fire from spreading into this area,” he said.
By that time, the fire had already engulfed the Lucky Star Chinese restaurant, Pinki Nails, a VFW Bingo Hall and portions of a recently opened cigar shop.
If the fire had spread to the next shop in line, Sherwin-Williams, the situation could have taken a more volatile turn. The shop is full of flammable paints and solvents to be sold to local body shops and car dealerships.
“Should the fire have hit here, it would have accelerated it even more, especially with the cleaners next door,” said Bill Morris, branch manager at Sherwin-Williams. “We probably would have lost the whole shopping center, if not more.”
But Morris didn’t get away scot-free. He arrived on Monday morning to find his front and back doors busted down and holes in the ceiling, thanks to fire crews making sure the fire didn’t spread to his business.
“The walls, the windows, the products, everything is covered with smoke and soot and it has to be cleaned,” he said. “But we’re blessed that it didn’t reach us and I can’t thank the firemen enough for what they did.”
Philadelphia fire officials say the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
The fire crews were able to save a number of businesses, including Sherwin-Williams, a laundromat, Pina’s Pizza and Graham’s Pub.
It wasn’t the first time that the shopping center had a close encounter with flames. Morris said Pina’s Pizza caught on fire a few years ago but was put under control before harming other businesses.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case this week. The affected storefronts are gutted with collapsed ceilings, burnt-out door frames and shards of glass and rubble covering the former entrances.
“I’m upset for all the people who lost their jobs; this is all they had, they might not have been the best jobs in the world but they were jobs and jobs aren’t easy to come by today.” Morris said. “The shopping center can be rebuilt, all that can be fixed, but it’s going to take a while to get these people back to work.”