More Than 100 Firefighters, Medics Respond As Blaze Engulfs Iconic Philly Cheesesteak Shop
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 30: A general view of Jim's Steaks on South Street on December 30, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
(Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

A massive fire engulfed one of Philadelphia’s most iconic cheesesteak restaurants, severely damaging it.

Firefighters responded to the scene at Jim’s Steaks on the corner of 4th and South Streets in South Philadelphia Friday. The blaze was officially declared a two-alarm fire, but the number of additional crews supporting first responders on site increased the number of crews to the equivalent of a three-alarm fire, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The fire was declared under control at about 1:30 p.m. local time, Friday afternoon, nearly four hours after it began.

Evidence pointed to the fire starting somewhere in the shop’s HVAC system. “They just couldn’t get to it right away,” Jim’s Steaks owner Ken Silver told the Inquirer. “It was probably somewhere in some little space where those wires that were installed who knows how many years ago were.”

The fire began shortly after assistant manager Christina Lawlor opened the shop for the day. She said she noticed the air conditioner was malfunctioning when she first stepped into the building at around 7:15 a.m. “I knew it when I walked in this morning something wasn’t right because it was too hot,” Lawlor told 6ABC Philadelphia. Usually the air conditioner is running, the Inquirer noted. Then around 8:30 a.m., she began to smell electrical wiring burning. “I started smelling something. It smelled electrical, you know you can smell that,” she told reporters. “So I’m like, ‘something’s not right.’ We looked up and saw smoke coming down from where the walk-in is and it was smoke pouring down.”

Lawlor said she told the shop’s staff to get out while she shut off the main circuit breaker box and called the fire department.

Fire crews arrived on scene at around 9:15 a.m. More crews were called to assist throughout the day as smoke enveloped the shop and a neighboring building. By 11:30 a.m., additional fire companies had been called to the scene to substitute for the first responding units who needed to rest after prolonged exposure to high temperatures outside. Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel told reporters that, in all, more than 125 firefighters, medics, and support personnel, and 57 vehicles were present at the site of the fire. The sheer amount of staff made the response the equivalent of a three-alarm fire.

The fire was finally declared under control at around 1:30 p.m., more than four hours after fire crews arrived. The building was severely damaged, and Thiel said there were concerns about the structural integrity of the shop. A clothing store adjacent to Jim’s was also damaged by the fire. Fortunately, no injuries were reported.

Established in 1976, Jim’s Steaks is one of Philadelphia’s iconic cheesesteak shops, along with a handful of other establishments around the city. According to its website, Jim’s was named “Best of Philly” five times by Philadelphia Magazine, and is rated on the Zagat survey.

Silver committed to rebuilding the shop, a local institution. “Absolutely, absolutely. I owe it to my father’s legacy,” Silver said. “I owe it to the street and I owe it to Philadelphia. We are too important a business to go away and I truly view it that way.”

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