Ongoing challenges in the aftermath of Southeast Reading vacant warehouse fire

Just a few days have passed since a devastating fire ravaged a vacant warehouse in Southwest Reading, marking the second such incident in a single week that has left the community and authorities grappling with significant challenges. As the situation unfolds, authorities provided an update Monday shedding light on the latest developments and ongoing response efforts.

The fire, which erupted on Thursday night around 8:30 pm, quickly spiraled out of control. Firefighters arrived on the scene to find heavy flames emanating from the third floor of the historic 137-year-old warehouse, formerly Lincoln Industrial Chemical. The fire prompted a second alarm, and the smoke from the blaze spread across the city, leading to a shelter-in-place advisory for nearby residents. Thankfully, there were no reported injuries in the fire.

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In the wake of the devastating fire, the Reading Fire Marshal, Jeremy Searfoss, provided an update on the ongoing efforts to address the aftermath. Cleanup operations at the site have been steadily progressing, but they have revealed new challenges and concerns that require immediate attention.

One of the most pressing issues is the discovery of 50-100 drums of liquid in the basement of the warehouse. To tackle this, crews the office of the fire marshal is collaborating with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency. Their task involves the proper testing, identification, categorization, packaging, and removal of the contents from the basement. A mobile lab has been set up on-site to expedite this process.

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Over the weekend, a demolition company was called in to remove portions of the third floor. This was deemed necessary due to concerns about the weight of the building on the first floor and basement. A drone was also deployed to monitor the building and establish safe zones for crews. Additionally, two access points to the basement have been opened to facilitate faster work.

The city plans to eventually bring in a structural engineer to assess the warehouse to determine whether it should be taken down to ensure public safety.

Unfortunately, the challenges continue to affect the local community. Street closures in the area of South Ninth and Laurel Streets are expected to persist through the end of the week and possibly into the next week. On-site air monitoring has been ongoing and has not detected any unusual or harmful substances, providing reassurance that there is no immediate risk to the community.

The causes of both Thursday’s and Tuesday’s fires are still under investigation. Reading Fire Marshal Jeremy Searfoss emphasized the commitment of his team to prioritize the safety and stability of the incident and ensure the community’s well-being.

“We have four members in our office, which we alternate our time here, along handing our daily work. These incidents take priority for the stabilization of the of the incident and to make sure the community feels safe and the people working here are safe” said Searfoss.

Authorities are urging people to avoid the affected area to allow crews to continue their crucial work, as they navigate the complex challenges presented by the fire.

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Jason Hugg
Jason Hugg
Editor and photographer at Berks Weekly.
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