Displaced by fire, they seek new homes: Apartments in ashes, they get aid, comfort

McKenzie Miller-Pierce made the best of things by snoozing.
McKenzie Miller-Pierce made the best of things by snoozing.
Posted: January 12, 2011

On Monday afternoon, Joseph Pierce, 29, his girlfriend, Tiffany Miller, 20, and their 4-week-old baby, McKenzie Miller-Pierce, were in Pierce's mother's basement apartment at the Windermere Court Apartments, on Walnut Street near 48th, when Miller smelled smoke.

"[Tiffany] smelled smoke in the hallway and, when I got outside, I saw that the roof of our building was on fire," Pierce said. "We got out fast."

As firefighters battled the five-alarm blaze, the Miller-Pierce family was among the first to arrive at the temporary shelter set up in the West Philadelphia High School gym across the street, where Miller said that the Red Cross provided formula, diapers, wipes and bottles for the baby, and money for clothing and personal needs.

When heavy smoke from the fire blew across Walnut Street and forced the evacuation of the high school, displaced Windermere Court residents were transported to the Alain Locke School, on Haverford Avenue near 46th Street, where baby McKenzie slept peacefully in her pink bunting bag last night as her family left the Red Cross shelter in the Locke gym to stay with relatives in West Philadelphia.

Mamadou Fall, 38, who lived alone in apartment 416, was at his health-care job in Conshohocken on Monday afternoon when a friend called to tell him that his building was on fire.

"I drove like a maniac," Fall said, "and stood outside my building for two hours, hoping the fire wouldn't reach my apartment. But it did. I lost everything."

Asked if he had renter's insurance, Fall smiled sadly, shook his head and said, "Here's the strange thing. During the Eagles game Sunday, I was talking to my cousin about getting that insurance. I even have a card from a friend of a friend who sells it. Then, Monday, the fire happened and I lost everything. Don't ever postpone anything. That's what I learned."

Dave Schrader, spokesman for the Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the American Red Cross, said late yesterday that his agency has helped 125 people displaced by the fire - 114 adults and 11 children - providing them with food, clothing, temporary shelter and even prescription medicines.

A cause for the fire, which started on the third floor of the four-story building, has not been determined, said Executive Fire Chief Daniel Williams. Fire officials continued their investigation at the scene yesterday.

Mayor Nutter asked that heads of household for each displaced family report to the Locke school to meet with Red Cross caseworkers about finding a new place to live.

Staff writers Stephanie Farr and Catherine Lucey contributed to this

report.

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