Elderly man killed as fire rips through West Philly rowhouse

A fire killed one person as it raced through the first and second floors of this rowhouse on the 4900 block of Brown Street in West Powelton in the early morning hours of Jan. 9, 2013. (Emily Babay / Staff)

An elderly man was killed in West Philadelphia when a fire that tore through a rowhouse overnight.

Fire officials confirmed there was a death resulting from the blaze, but did not have an age or identity to release. The victim had become trapped in the building and firefighters attempted a rescue.

The fire on the 4900 block of Brown Street in the West Powelton neighborhood was reported about 2:15 a.m. The blaze raced through the first and second floors and through the roof of the two-story, 15-by-45 foot house.

The fire was placed under control about 3:20 a.m.

Records show the house has been owned since 1948 by a man now 88-years-old.  However, there was no confirmation he was the victim.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said there were reports from neighbors that the man was trapped inside, and, "we can hear him, fumbling around and screaming."

Ayers said debris and paper inside the house fueled the heavy blaze and made it difficult for firefighters to reach the man.

"It was the same situation in each and every room," he said.

Steve Johnson, a public adjuster called to the scene, called it, "the biggest flame I've seen on a residential building."

Johnson said the blaze was so high, it would have could have reached to a third level.

"The whole top floor was one flame,"  Johnson said.

The homes on both sides of the rowhouse also sustained damage. Those two families have been displaced by the blaze and the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania said it was offering assistance.

Several people were huddling in a Red Cross van across the street from fire early Wednesday morning.

The Red Cross and Philadelphia Fire Department are planning to conduct a fire safety walk-through in the neighborhood this afternoon to distribute information, smoke detectors and batteries.

Check back for more details as they develop.

Contact the breaking news desk at BreakingNewsDesk@philly.com