A fire inside a Philadelphia Housing Authority row home in Philadelphia’s Fairmount district killed 12 people, including eight children, on Wednesday morning.
Around 6 a.m., firefighters arrived at the three-story row house at 869 North 23rd Street. Wednesday. When firemen arrived on the scene, they discovered significant flames emanating from the home’s second floor.
According to fire officials, firms began working to put out the fire and uncovered many dead in the process.
Authorities verified the death of 12 persons, including eight children, in the fire on Wednesday night. Officials revealed one fewer number during a press conference the morning of the fire. The victims’ ages have not yet been revealed.
Later that evening, police and fire officers brought the victims to the Medical Examiner’s Office.
“This is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city’s history,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday morning, as he called for prayers. “Losing so many kids is just devastating.”
The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) owns, operates, and inspects the property, which has been divided into two parts. According to officials, the facility housed up to 26 individuals, with eight in the lower apartment and 18 in the higher. According to PHA, the family has lived at the address since 2011, when they moved in with six other people. Their family grew, but PHA stated that they did not request a larger home.
When FOX 29’s Jeff Cole questioned PHA authorities if 26 persons was a suitable amount of individuals to live in the building, a representative said no.
“You talk about the number of people in the house, you know, sometimes people should be indoors or on the street. You don’t know the circumstances of every family,” Mayor Kenney said of the number of people inside the home. “Maybe there were relatives or people that needed to be sheltered. The tragedy happened and we all mourn for it, but we can’t make a judgment on the number of people living in the house because sometimes people just need to be indoors.”
According to investigators, the house had four smoke alarms, none of which were working. According to fire officials, the house was inspected and smoke detectors were installed in 2019 and 2020. Officials with the Philadelphia Housing Authority said the property was last examined in May of 2021, and all of the smoke detectors were functional. They also stated that some detectors and batteries were changed in 2020.
On Wednesday afternoon, Philadelphia Housing Authority President & CEO Kelvin A. Jeremiah stated the incident and smoke detectors.
“This unimaginable loss of life has shaken all of us at PHA. It is too early for us to say more. The property was last inspected in May 2021, and all the smoke detectors were operating properly at that time. The Fire Department, ATF, and others are handling the investigation. Any information on the cause will come through them. Our primary goal right now is to support our residents in any way we can.”
Meanwhile, many people have questioned why there was no fire escape, which may have provided an additional escape option for the trapped victims. A two-family, three-story row home is not obliged to have a fire escape and can claim the front door as its only exit, according to the Department of Licensing and Inspection (L&I).
Due to the building’s configuration, Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said just two alternative escapes could be found during a briefing late Wednesday morning.
Officials from the fire department say they’re working with the Fire Marshal’s Office and the ATF to figure out what caused the fire.
“We plan on making sure that this tremendous loss of life did not happen in vain,” said Deputy Fire Commissioner Murphy.
In his 35 years on the job, Murphy has termed the fire one of the worst he’s ever seen
During a press conference held at the scene on Wednesday morning, city and fire officials were asked about possible issues with 9-1-1 calls and the inability to reach dispatchers.
Officials from the city clarified in a statement released Wednesday night that they received 36 9-1-1 calls about the fire between 6:36 a.m. and 8:36 a.m. 6:39 a.m. and 6:39 a.m. Today is Wednesday morning. The first call, at 6:36 p.m., was immediately answered, and the call-taker obtained information on the location of the incident before transferring the line to fire communications less than a minute later. At 6:38 a.m., firefighters were dispatched. Two minutes later, he arrived on the scene.
Neighbors tell Steve Keeley of FOX 29 that they awoke about 6 a.m. shouts that sounded like they were coming from the street rather than from within the house One of the neighbors recorded video of what seemed to be flames coming from the home’s second level.
Other neighbors told FOX 29 that they frequently see youngsters playing outside the house and that there is a lot of activity in the neighborhood.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated, though Deputy Commissioner Murphy says it isn’t necessarily suspicious at this point. The inquiry is being led by the Philadelphia Fire Department and the Fire Marshal’s Office.