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Some unaccounted for after huge senior center fire in West Chester

Written by Anthony Izaguirre/Associated Press | Nov 17, 2017 2:44 AM
barclay_senior_living_fire_west_chester.jpg

Firefighters continue to work the scene of a fire at the the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester, Pa., Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)


(Undated) -- Authorities struggled Friday to account for the whereabouts of all the residents of a Pennsylvania senior living community after a massive blaze tore through their complex during the middle of the night, injuring nearly 30 and leading to a chaotic evacuation.

West Chester Mayor Jordan Norley said Friday afternoon that a few of the more than 130 residents of the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community, located west of Philadelphia, were still unaccounted for following the huge fire.

"We're hoping for the best obviously here," said Norley, who put the number taken to area hospitals at 29. Officials said fewer than 20 remained hospitalized and all were in good condition.

County emergency officials said there was the possibility someone could have died in the fire, which erupted late Thursday night. But a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which was on the scene, told an afternoon news conference that no relatives had yet to report any family members missing.

Dozens of neighbors rushed to help with the rescue, wrapping the elderly in blankets and in some cases carrying them to ambulances in makeshift gurneys. Some of the residents were also taken to a shelter set up at a nearby college.

Emergency management officials said much of the burned-out complex was too unstable for investigators to enter and check to make sure everyone got out.

Barclay Friends offers various levels of care including memory care, skilled nursing and post-acute rehab. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Larry Kingsland, 62, said he and scores of neighbors ferried elderly residents to medics as firefighters rescued them from the inferno.

"Everyone saw how devastating the fire was and we all had the same reaction: that people needed help," he said. "The whole neighborhood was helping."

The fire spread to multiple buildings, engulfing sections within minutes as more than 400 emergency personnel responded. The heat was so intense that one firefighter battling the blaze discovered his helmet was melting, said county emergency services director Robert Kagel.

A spokeswoman for the senior center said about 132 residents were present when the blaze broke out. Emergency officials put the number of staff at about 20; they were all accounted for.

Patients at Paoli Hospital were admitted with issues related to smoke inhalation, a spokeswoman said. The mayor said some of the hospitalized residents complained of chest pains.

Many of the residents were pushed in wheelchairs or rolled on beds to safety, said Dina Ciccarone, another neighbor who helped move people away from the fire and into safety. In some cases, she said, people used blankets as makeshift gurneys to assist in the rescue effort.

"Most of them could not walk," the 37-year-old Ciccarone said. "Some were lying on the ground, we were just bundling them up."

As the complex went up in flames, news helicopter coverage showed dozens of residents on the lawn or along the street, wrapped in blankets as overnight temperatures dipped into the low 40s. Some of the residents were taken from the scene by school bus.

Mike Lentz, a 60-year-old accountant who lives across the street from the facility, said neighbors also helped to comfort seniors as they were led away from the flames.

"I would try to wrap them in a blanket and kept telling them 'you're safe now,'" he said. "Some were crying. Some were disoriented and crying."

An earlier story appears below. 

(Undated) -- Dozens of neighbors rushed to the scene of a massive late-night fire that injured nearly 30 people at a Pennsylvania senior living community, wrapping the elderly in blankets and carrying them to ambulances in makeshift gurneys.

Larry Kingsland, 62, said Friday he and scores of people who live around the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community ferried elderly residents to medics as firefighters rescued them from the blaze.

"Everyone saw how devastating the fire was and we all had the same reaction: that people needed help," he said of the Thursday night inferno in West Chester, about 35 miles west of Philadelphia. "The whole neighborhood was helping."

Town officials said some of the more than 130 residents were still unaccounted for Friday afternoon, and that there was the possibility someone could have died in the fire.

"We're hoping for the best obviously here," said Mayor Jordan Norley, who put the number taken to hospitals at 29.

Emergency management officials said there were still hot spots more than 12 hours after the fire was declared under control, and that much of the burned out complex was too unstable for investigators to enter.

The fire spread to multiple buildings, engulfing sections within minutes. A spokeswoman for the senior living center said about 132 residents were present when the blaze broke out. Emergency officials put the number of staff at about 20; they were all accounted for.

Many of the residents were pushed in wheelchairs or rolled on beds to safety, said Dina Ciccarone, another neighbor who helped move people away from the fire and into safety. In some cases, she said, people used blankets as makeshift gurneys to assist in the rescue effort.

"Most of them could not walk," the 37-year-old Ciccarone said. "Some were lying on the ground, we were just bundling them up."

News helicopter coverage showed dozens of residents on the lawn or along the street, wrapped in blankets as overnight temperatures dipped into the low 40s. Elderly residents were loaded onto school buses early Friday and taken to nearby hospitals, witnesses said.

Chester County emergency officials said at least 20 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment. The extent of most injuries was not immediately known, though a Paoli Hospital spokeswoman said seven patients were admitted with issues related to smoke inhalation.

Mike Lentz, a 60-year-old accountant who lives across the street from the facility, said neighbors also helped to comfort seniors as they were led away from the flames.

"I would try to wrap them in a blanket and kept telling them 'you're safe now,'" he said. "Some were crying. Some were disoriented and crying."

According to its website, Barclay Friends offers various levels of care including memory care, skilled nursing and post-acute rehab.

Early Friday morning, the local chapter of the American Red Cross said on Twitter that it had multiple teams on the scene and that it was working with county officials and facility staff to assist displaced residents.

An earlier story apears below. 

(West Chester) -- A massive fire at a senior living community in Chester County injured at least 20 people and forced dozens more, many of whom were unable to walk, into the cold night air.

The blaze was reported around 11 p.m. Thursday at Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester, about 35 miles west of Philadelphia.

The fire quickly spread to multiple buildings and flames could be seen shooting from the roofs and windows of the structures. Residents were forced to evacuate outside into the cold, with temperatures overnight hovering in the low 40s. News helicopter video showed dozens of residents on the lawn or along the street, wrapped in blankets. Many of them had been pushed in wheelchairs or rolled on beds to safety.

Chester County emergency officials said at least 20 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known.

A spokeswoman for Main Line Health, a not-for-profit health system, said one of its hospitals also was prepared to provide shelter to some additional residents of the senior living community.

According to its website, Barclay Friends offers various levels of care including memory care, skilled nursing and post-acute rehab.

Early Friday morning, the local chapter of the American Red Cross said on Twitter that it had multiple teams on the scene and that it was working with county officials and facility staff to assist displaced residents.

A cause of the fire remained under investigation.

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