Transformer Explosion Leads to Chevra Fire

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The Chevra, one of Philadelphia’s primary organization that puts on programming for young professionals, is assessing the damage from recent fires that occurred at its Center City building on Feb. 12 and 13.

No one was injured.

The fire was the result of a PECO underground transformer explosion near the corner of 20th and Ranstead streets in Center City just before 8 a.m. on Feb. 12, according to The Chevra. No one was injured by the explosion, but nearby businesses sustained damage, CBS Philly reported.

The Chevra building at 2002 Ludlow St. is not usable, and the organization has set up temporary offices at 1800 John F. Kennedy Blvd., which it also plans to use for small events.

The Chevra has cancelled its next event, “Urban Campfire,” which was scheduled for Feb. 23, and is working with other organizations to secure venues for other upcoming events, including for its Purim party in March, which usually attracts hundreds of attendees.

Vice President Leon Vinokur said they do not yet know when The Chevra will reopen.

“It’s an evolving, developing process, but we’re moving as quickly as we possibly can and hope to reopen as soon as we possibly can,” Vinokur said.

On the morning of Feb. 12, the transformer explosion led to flooding and an electrical fire in The Chevra’s basement. The fire had started to spread to the first floor, The Chevra’s main programming space in the four-story building, when firefighters were able to put it out.

There was a flare-up of the fire in the early morning of Feb. 13.

By the time firefighters were able to stop it, the building had sustained more damage. The basement and the first floor had significant fire, smoke and soot damage, while the second and third floor had smoke and soot damage. There is a fourth floor, not operated by The Chevra, which sustained smoke and soot damage as well.

“We look at everything through the lens of the expression gam zu l’tova, i.e. ‘everything is for the good’,” Vinokur said. “While we realize this challenge poses a temporary setback, it also gives rise to an opportunity for even greater things to come for The Chevra and Jewish Philly.”

CBS Philly reported that the transformer explosion sent several manhole covers and a several-hundred-pound metal transformer access cover flying. The windows of several nearby stores broke, although Mama’s Vegetarian, a kosher restaurant at the intersection of the explosion, was unaffected.

Mama’s Vegetarian owner Haviv David was in the kitchen when the explosion happened, he said. He heard the explosion and felt the building shake. His first thought was that it might be a terrorist attack.

There weren’t many people walking around outside yet because of the time of day and bad weather, or else David believes there would have been deaths.

“Thank God nobody got hurt,” David said.

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