Following a fire in a rowhome owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, 12 people were reported dead. The house, with no functional smoke detectors, represents the deadliest fire in the city in over 100 years with up to 8 children losing their lives in the morning blaze.
Despite the fact that the cause of the fire is under investigation, various sources have informed news outlets they suspect a Christmas tree contained within was responsible for the spread. Firefighters responded to the incident just before 7:00 am on Wednesday. When they reached the scene, they discovered heavy clouds of smoke and flames appearing from the home's second floor.
Officials have stated that various companies started to put out the fire and got it under control in under an hour. Unfortunately, it was during this firefighting process that crews found multiple fatalities. On Wednesday night, it was confirmed by authorities that 12 lives had been claimed. Four adults and eight children were found killed.
Members of the surviving families stated that the victims' ages ranged from 1-year-old to as high as 33-year-old. Two of the victims were siblings between the ages of 30 and 33, and both were mothers of children. It has remained unspoken whether or not all of their children were present during the time of the fire or how many perished. A group of other victims, one of which included a child, were taken to critical health care centers but considered in stable condition.
"This is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city's history. Losing so many kids is just devastating." - Mayor Jim Kenney
A Large Number of Tenants
As of now, the property is inspected, owned, and operated by the Philadelphia Housing Authority who divided the space into two units that occupied up to 26 people in the building. Furthermore, there were 18 individuals living in the upstairs region on the second and third floors with up to 8 in the downstairs apartment that mostly included the first floor.
The family lived at the location since 2011 and started with six individuals. Although the family expanded, officials representing the authority stated that they did not ask for a larger house.
When questioned whether or not 26 was an appropriate figure of individuals to be living in the property, officials from the Philadelphia Housing Authority believed it wasn't. A representative from the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections claimed that the city does not place limits on the number of members who can reside in one unit. Mayor Jim Kenny told the public to without judgment.
"You don’t know the circumstances of each and every family, and maybe there were relatives and family that needed to be sheltered. Obviously the tragedy happened, and we all mourn for it. But we can’t make judgment on the number of people living in the house because sometimes people just need to be indoors." - Mayor Jim Kenny
No Functional Smoke Detectors
While the home contained up to four smoke detectors, none were operational at the time of the fire. This is despite the fact that the alarms were inspected on an annual basis with at least 2 replaced in 2020, according to officials of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. At the time of the last inspection in May 2021, the smoke detectors were declared functional.
Many have also put forth questions related to the absence of potential fire escape that would have been able to provide another route for victims inside. The Department of Licensing and Inspection stated that a two-family, three-story rowhome is not legally mandated to have one and can simply have the front door exist as the only exit.
Due to the building's configuration, it was stated during a late Wednesday briefing with Craig Murphy, Deputy Fire Commissioner, that only two exits could be identified. He went on to claim that the incident was one of the worst fires he has ever responded to in his 35 years serving on the job.
"We plan on making sure that this tremendous loss of life did not happen in vain. It was terrible. I’ve been around for 35 years now and this is probably one of the worst fires I have ever been to." - Craig Murphy, Deputy Fire Commissioner
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