Neighbors help during massive senior living center fire

In this image taken from video, Chester County fire crews are on the scene of a fire at Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester, Pa., Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. The fire quickly spread to multiple buildings, forcing residents outside into the cold. Emergency crews transported people from the scene. (WPVI-TV via AP)

Dozens of neighbors rushed to the scene of a massive fire that injured at least 20 people at a Pennsylvania senior living community late, wrapping elderly people in blankets and transporting them to ambulances.

Larry Kingsland, 62, said Friday he and scores of people who live around the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community ferried elderly residents to medics as firefighters rescued them from the blaze.

“Everyone saw how devastating the fire was and we all had the same reaction: that people needed help,” he said of the late Thursday inferno in West Chester, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of Philadelphia. “The whole neighborhood was helping.”

Firefighters were still dousing smoldering hot spots on what remains of the building late morning Friday. The fire was declared under control just before 1:30 a.m. An investigation into what caused the blaze is underway, a town fire chief said.

The fire quickly spread to multiple buildings, engulfing sections within minutes; flames could be seen shooting from the roofs and windows of the structures.

Many of the residents were pushed in wheelchairs or rolled on beds to safety, said Dina Ciccarone, another neighbor who helped move people away from the fire and into safety. In some cases, she said, people used blankets as makeshift gurneys to assist in the rescue effort.

“Most of them could not walk,” the 37-year-old Ciccarone said. “Some were lying on the ground, we were just bundling them up.”

News helicopter coverage showed dozens of residents on the lawn or along the street, wrapped in blankets. Elderly residents were loaded onto school busses early Friday and were taken to nearby hospitals, witnesses said.

Chester County emergency officials said at least 20 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known.

A spokeswoman for Main Line Health, a not-for-profit health system, said one of its hospitals also was prepared to provide shelter to some additional residents of the senior living community. Some residents were taken to nearby West Chester University.

According to its website, Barclay Friends offers various levels of care including memory care, skilled nursing and post-acute rehab.

Early Friday morning, the local chapter of the American Red Cross said on Twitter that it had multiple teams on the scene and that it was working with county officials and facility staff to assist displaced residents.

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