The Freedom Valley Chronicles: Plymouth Meeting Mall Fire – Part Five

Rarely does the general public get to see a fire as it starts as a modest situation and then develops into an inferno.

Today, you get to see photos that show the initial progression of the fire that destroyed about one-third of the Plymouth Meeting Mall on January 10, 1970.  An unidentified individual who worked in a camera store at the Mall took the photos and provided them to Harmonville Fire Company and Plymouth Township as part of their investigation into the fire.

In some of the photos, you will notice people standing near this fire.

With one exception, none of the people in these photos were firefighters.  They were shoppers and employees of the stores at the Mall.

While these photos are important from an investigative standpoint and from an historical perspective, these photos should not serve as examples for the average person to follow.

All of the firefighters that have been interviewed for these news articles have confirmed the obvious:

Please don’t stand and watch a fire as it expands in an enclosed building.

Safely get out of the building.

Call 911.

In 1970, the 911 emergency telephone network did not exist in Plymouth Township, but telephones certainly did.

Unfortunately, while the fire began around 10:00 AM on that Saturday morning, the first telephone call to request emergency assistance did not occur until 10:23 AM.

Think about it.

People stood and watched the fire – thinking that “someone else” had already called for emergency assistance.

This aspect of human nature – thinking that, obviously, “someone else” has already done what you know needs to be done – did not start in 1970 and certainly did not end during that year.  It was a common thought process before this fire, and it is certainly still a very common perspective today.

All of the firefighters interviewed for these news articles have stated that if you are faced with a fire, don’t call for assistance first.  Get out first.  Don’t wait and watch. Don’t stand and take photos.  Get out.  Then call 911.

With those cautions – and preaching done – please realize as you view these photos that employees of Docktor Pet Center were able to get 40 puppies out of their store.  In the midst of the fire across from their pet shop.  As the smoke filled the building.

One eyewitness indicated that there would have been only 2 or 3 employees at the store at that time.  It is likely that others in the Mall helped the employees as they took the puppies outside.

The Delaware County Daily Times reported on January 12, 1970, that the puppies “were taken to safety and later treated for smoke inhalation.”

It will likely sadden many that not all of the animals in Docktor Pet Center were so fortunate.  The cats, birds, and fish in the store died that day during the fire at the Plymouth Meeting Mall.

As you view photos that show almost total darkness, please realize that this is the environment in which firefighters from throughout the Freedom Valley faced as they rushed into the Mall to attempt to stop the fire.

Please realize that the heat from this fire was so intense that it buckled steel.  Caused portions of the roof to collapse.

Yet, lights from the lamp posts still worked.  Water sprayed upwards in the large fountain in front of Lit Brothers Department Store.  Aspects of ordinary life continued in the face of the fire.

Three unidentified people – to the right in this photo – are seen watching the fire as it starts its destructive path.

The fire began in a display case in the front of King’s Men’s Store.  The store was located on the lower level of the Plymouth Meeting Mall near Lit Brothers Department Store.  You can see water spray into the air within the large fountain to the right in this photo.

This photo shows a closer look as the two display windows are enveloped in flames at the men’s store.

The fire is now reaching a beam up to the second level of the Mall.

The fire is now arching over the top of the shoe store located next to the men’s store.

The fountain continues its function that on any other day would have entertained shoppers at the Plymouth Meeting Mall.  The fire is now progressing further from the men’s store.

King’s Men’s Store is being consumed by fire.

The display windows at King’s Men’s Shop are outlined in flames.

It appears that the entrance from the Mall to Lit Brothers Department Store – to the right in this photo – is still open.  The building housing Lit Brothers survived because of fire protection devices built with the store.

The shoe store – seen to the left in this photo – was eventually destroyed in the fire.

The fire continues to spread.

Lights in the large fountain continue to illuminate the water as fire rages nearby.

This fire led to the destruction of one-third of the Plymouth Meeting Mall.

Lamp posts and trees that had framed a large fountain stand as silent witness to this fire.

Darkness spreads in this section of the Plymouth Meeting Mall with smoke from the fire.

Unidentified individuals attempt to fight the fire with a water hose from one of the fire stations that had been located in the Plymouth Meeting Mall.  They were not successful.

The fire can still be seen as the smoke fills the Mall.

A couple of these lamp posts appear to have withstood the fire and remained standing after its exstingushment.

There is at least one unidentified person – seen to the right in this photo – remaining here in the smoke from the fire.

Ceiling tiles are now falling within the Mall.  An unidentified man rushes to leave the scene.

Darkness is almost complete now at the Plymouth Meeting Mall.

A firefighter from Harmonville Fire Company is seen entering the smoke-filled Mall.  The time would have been likely around 10:28 AM or shortly thereafter on January 10, 1970.

This is what firefighters saw in this section of the Plymouth Meeting Mall.  The illumination at the left of the photo is from one of the lamp posts.

There’s an unidentified man still standing near the fire.

Other than the flames from the fire, the lamp posts were the only apparent source of light in this section of the Mall.

Two lamp posts are the only things visible now in this section of the Plymouth Meeting Mall enveloped in total darkness.  Firefighters from Harmonville Fire Company, Plymouth Fire Company, Barren Hill Fire Company, and other area fire companies were working to fight the fire in this environment.

Benches, the large fountain, the trees, and other design elements are no longer visible.

In Part Six, we will show photos of the utter destruction that resulted from the fire at the Plymouth Meeting Mall.

The photos are provided as a courtesy by Harmonville Fire Company and Plymouth Township.

Do you have questions about local history?  A street name?  A building?

Your questions may be used in a future news article.

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© 2018 Richard McDonough