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City: Fire Left Philadelphia Building 'Imminently Dangerous'

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) -- City officials say a Sunday morning fire at a building in Philadelphia's Old City has left the structure "imminently dangerous."

David Perri, commissioner of the Department of Licenses and Inspections, said the property appeared to be a "total loss." After evaluating the damage Monday, the agency ordered the building's owner to remove an exterior fire escape to take the weight off the building facade on the upper floors. Perri says officials hope to save "the historic cast-iron facade."

More than 100 people were forced out of their homes or hotel rooms because of the fire.

The buildings at 3rd and Chestnut burned for so long Sunday the Philadelphia Fire Department ordered a collapse zone to be set up.

"As of right now, we are taking all precautions, we're setting up collapse zones around the building," said Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy.

The fire was first reported around 3:30 Sunday morning as tenants escaped their smoke-filled homes.

"I looked down from my window and I could smoke billowing out from the ground floor restaurant next door to us," said resident Craig Schmitt.

Once Schmitt saw the smoke he was convinced he needed to leave, and in a matter of minutes, heavy fire erupted — pushing firefighters back.

Officials say a handful of them had to hurdle out first-floor windows.

"It's been awful. It's been very hard to think about it," said Al Gury, who lost everything in the fire, including his cats and art studio.

Gury, a professor at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, moved into the building 40 years ago.

"I had my own five cats and I, for at least 12 years, worked for the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society as a foster parent."

A friend of Gury's set up a GoFundMe page in his name. CLICK HERE to learn how you can help.

Many people are still trying to sort things out well into Monday.

"It's been tough, we have no money, no keys, it's been very difficult to get around or do anything," said Ben Evans, who was in town for a wedding.

"I got about 500 calls, I was in bed," said Chris Young.

Young owns The Little Lion restaurant, but the flames never touched his business.

Although, because the basements are connected, it's likely his prep area, offices and building utilities are under water. He says reopening anytime soon is an uncertain question.

"We've got 80 people depending on us for their livelihoods, and you know we're just hoping that it's, you know, shorter than longer," he said. "It could be two days or could be two years. We don't really know."

On the other side of his restaurant— Best Western Independence Park was also evacuated, leaving many displaced and forced to take shelter inside of the Museum of the American Revolution.

"At the high point, we had reports of 160 people that were evacuated," said Noelle Foize, deputy director of the city's Office of Emergency Management.

A block away, employees at City Tavern are getting ready to welcome those displaced employees from The Little Lion.

"I have five interviews to do tomorrow with servers and front of house staff from The Little Lion," said Jason Biddle, manager at City Tavern.

City Tavern once closed because of a fire and Biddle knew helping was the right thing to do.

"I want to help people get back to work just like other people helped us," he said.

Katia Gouveia and her family are vacationing in Philadelphia from Brazil. They had a Monday night reservation at the hotel. As they were walking to the hotel, they made it has far as 3rd and Chestnut Streets and couldn't go any further thanks to the police tape that was up.

"We saw the firefighters, so we thought, of course something happened, but we couldn't imagine it would be the hotel we were staying," Gouveia tells KYW Newsradio.

She says they weren't aware of the fire until that moment and needed a new plan fast.

"We are going to another hotel because we have luggage and my little son and we have to find somewhere to stay," she said.

It's unclear if sprinklers worked, and at the time of the fire many believed beeping smoke detectors were yet another drill in this series of old buildings.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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