A group of long condemned Lancaster City row homes struck by a three-alarm fire last week are set to be demolished.
Crews were dispatched around 5:45 p.m. on March 13 to the 500 block of North Plum Street for the report of a residential fire. By the time the fire was brought under control at 8:30 p.m., more than 20 emergency crews from around Lancaster County were brought out to the scene, fighting the blaze that impacted 10 different residences on the block.
The fire tore through several condemned properties on the block near the Lancaster Science Factory, sending thick smoke over the east end of the city and flames reaching into the sky as firefighters cut ventilation holes in the roofs of the homes. A total of four adults and two children were displaced from two of the homes that were still being occupied on the block.
Local residents could be seen examining the damage later in the week as birds flew in and out of the broken windows and the gaping holes in the roofs of the homes.
On Saturday, Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace issued an update on the fire, saying the city fire marshal had been unable to determine the cause of the fire and that the investigation of the blaze was still ongoing.
Sorace said the city’s chief building code official worked with an engineering firm to evaluate the safety of the buildings on the block, determining that eight of the properties were in imminent danger of collapse and must be demolished “as soon as possible.”
The city was working with a contractor to demolish the structures at 521-535 North Plum St. early this week, while two end properties at 537 and 539 North Plum were not in danger of collapse and were still being evaluated.
The eight properties set for demolition had previously been condemned by the city at three different points before the fire broke out last week. The home at 527 was under construction when it was condemned in 2017, city officials said, while the adjacent properties at 523, 525, 529, 531, 533 and 535 were condemned in August 2019 due to “structural issues caused by a geological anomaly.”
City officials said the property at 521 was later condemned in August 2019 from “raw sewage discharge into the rear and side yards of the property, not due to geological anomalies.” The city installed and maintained secured fencing around the eight condemned properties in 2019, while the two end properties remained occupied.
In September 2019, the city conducted a “structural condition assessment” of the buildings and a separate “microgravity survey and radar scan of the area” to determine what geological problem was impacting the properties. The private owners of the condemned properties also commissioned their own studies to figure out the cause of the geological anomalies.
City officials said the geological anomaly spanned across several private properties on the block, and a facilitated meeting was held in 2019 between the city and the property owners to “develop a collective solution for the anomaly.”
Since 2019, officials said, the owners of several of the properties were working on plans to remedy the structural issues. The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster (RACL) had been monitoring the progress to find a solution.
“Due to the complexity of the problem, the expense of potential solutions, and the number of private owners needed to work together toward a resolution, the process has been long and complicated,” city officials from the Bureau of Building Code Administration said in a press release. “The City agreed to allow the owners to continue to work toward a solution.”