DA: Worker’s Torch Started Pennsylvania Apartment Fire

August 20, 2008

A construction worker removing steel frames with an acetylene torch accidentally started a fire that destroyed two apartment buildings in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania and left nearly 400 people homeless, investigators said Monday.

Also on Monday, a group of residents filed a lawsuit alleging that the developer of the Riverwalk at Millennium complex was negligent. Wednesday’s fire forced the evacuation of 375 people from four buildings; residents of the two undamaged buildings were allowed to return home Sunday.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman said the fire was an accident that started at a construction site adjacent to the complex.

The worker was using the torch to remove frames that had been improperly installed, Ferman said. Metal sparks and molten steel from the torch started the blaze, which quickly spread to two occupied buildings, according to investigators.

The $51.8 million Riverwalk at Millennium project is a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom luxury loft apartments built on once-blighted property near the Schuylkill River.

In the lawsuit, residents are seeking unspecified damages. The suit alleges that the developer, O’Neill Properties Group, and others were negligent and that the building did not have sufficient fire protection measures in place.

Attorney Robert J. Mongeluzzi said he believes that the suit will eventually seek “millions, if not tens of millions of dollars.”

Workers at the construction site did not take sufficient fire safety precautions, Mongeluzzi said. The occupied buildings also did not have sprinkler systems in the attic, he said.

“That would have doused the flames,” Mongeluzzi said. “It never would have burned down.”

Edmund Campbell, an attorney for the developer, did not immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press.

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