10 firefighters, 6 others hurt in blaze at N. Philly high-rise

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JONALYN SHUMBERGER was sound asleep when a fire alarm rattled her awake in her 16th-floor residence in the Norman Blumberg Apartments public-housing high-rise in North Philadelphia yesterday morning.

She didn't think much of it. "The things go off all the time," she said. But then she smelled smoke. She rushed to her door and "smoke was everywhere."

She yelled to her daughter, 23, her daughter's boyfriend and a friend: "This is the real thing!"

Her friend ran out, and Shumberger, 49, her daughter and the boyfriend started to make their way down a stairwell.

But on the ninth floor, a woman opened the door into the hallway, screaming for her mother. Black smoke billowed into the stairwell, knocking Shumberger back. Unable to see, she returned to her room.

She was trapped, she thought.

She returned to bed, watched news of the fire on TV and "just sat there praying," she said.

But soon after, firefighters banged on her door and helped her down the smoky stairwell as they raced from room to room to get people out.

Ten firefighters, including a battalion chief, suffered injuries from smoke inhalation as a result, and one, Michael McGuire, remained in critical but stable condition last night at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

About six civilians, including a boy with asthma, suffered minor smoke-related injuries, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said.

The fire began in an apartment on the eighth floor of the 18-floor building at 1516 Judson Way, near 23rd and Jefferson streets. Ayers said the call came in at 5:47 a.m. and was raised to two alarms about a half-hour later. It was under control shortly after 7 a.m.

Fire Marshal James Bonner blamed the fire on an extension cord that ignited in an apartment.

After being evacuated, most residents in the 143 apartments were allowed to return last night.

Michael Kelly, the Philadelphia Housing Authority's interim executive director, said 11 families on the eighth floor and one each on the seventh and ninth floors had to stay in a hotel.

During the day, many residents took shelter across the street in the Gen. John F. Reynolds School, assisted by the Red Cross, which gave them blankets, food and drinks.

Speaking outside the high-rise as strong, chilly winds blew, Phara Regusters, 50, said that after she and her 9-year-old son made it out of their sixth-floor apartment, she saw "children hanging out the windows" from the seventh floor on the north side of the building, "crying for help" as orange flames were "shooting out really badly" on the west side, where the fire began.

The top of the building was "completely engulfed in thick, black smoke," she said.

Roberta Buchanan, 20, and her 5-year-old son live at the top of the building, on the 18th floor. Holding her son's hand and the stairwell's railing, she made it down through the black smoke. "It was scary," she said. "Really scary."