Massive fire rips through Pennsylvania senior living community

Last Updated Nov 17, 2017 1:39 PM EST

WEST CHESTER, Pa. – At least 20 people were taken to hospitals as a massive fire ripped through a senior living community in Pennsylvania, CBS Philadelphia reports. Dozens more, many of whom were unable to walk, were forced into the cold night air.

The fire was reported around 11 p.m. Thursday night at Barclay Friends Senior Living Community, about 35 miles west of Philadelphia. Authorities believe all the injuries are non-life threatening, CBS Philadelphia reports.

CBS News has learned the facility was found to be in violation of some fire safety standards during its latest inspection, in February, but had since corrected the violations.

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," Kingsland said. "The whole neighborhood was helping."

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Firefighters are seen battling huge blaze that broke out in Barclay Friends Senior Living Community, in West Chester, Pa., outside Philadelphia, late on Nov. 16, 2017

CBS Philsalphia

Firefighters were still dousing smoldering hot spots Friday morning. The fire was declared under control just before 1:30 a.m. An investigation into what caused the blaze is underway, a town fire chief said.

The fire quickly 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.

News helicopter video shows dozens of residents lining up along the street, wrapped in blankets. Many were in wheelchairs or in beds on wheels. A spokesperson for the community, Faith Woodward, said it was about 40 degrees outdoors at the time.

Residents who weren't taken to hospitals were brought to various facilities in the area, CBS Philadelphia reports.

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.

Senior Living Community Fire

Firefighters rest in the aftermath of a fire at the the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester, Pa., Friday, Nov. 17, 2017.

Matt Rourke / AP

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.

APTOPIX Senior Living Community Fire

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.

Matt Rourke / AP