PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Eight children are among the 12 people killed after a fire in two apartment units owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood Wednesday morning. The Philadelphia Fire Department arrived at high flames at the 800-block building off North 23rd Street just after 6:30 p.m.
Authorities confirm that four adults and eight young people were killed in the tragic fire. The age of the victims varies from 2 to 33 years.
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“It was awful, most of it, I’ve been around for 30, 35 years now, and this is probably one of the worst fires I’ve ever been to,” Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said during a news conference.
– Matt Petrillo (@MattPetrillo) January 5, 2022
Murphy says the number of victims is “dynamic because there is still an ongoing recovery effort.”
Eight people evacuated the building and two more people were transported to CHOP and Temple University Hospital.
“We’re getting more calls, people reported inside,” was heard on dispatch audio.
Send audio and cell phone video with you into the moments when the row home went up in flames. The multi-unit was home to at least 26 people.
“We got heavy fire that filled the second floor, heavy smoke on the third floor, prepare for rescue,” read the dispatch sound.
From the moment they arrived, the fire department aggressively attacked this fire.
The fire department says there was a major fire in the kitchen area on the second floor.
The crew got the fire under control at 7.31am
Murphy says the building was divided into two apartments. The unit on the first floor reportedly had eight occupants, and the unit on the second and third floors had 18 people living in it.
The multi-unit building had a described “odd layout”, possibly preventing a safe escape.
“Besides the front door and the back entrance, because of the strange configuration of the house, all I know of is two exits,” Murphy said.
Officials say licenses and inspections will determine if it was OK for so many people to live in each unit.
The home is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. According to the PHA, there are seven smoke detectors and three carbon monoxide detectors in unit A and six smoke detectors and three carbon monoxide detectors in unit B. This gives a total of 13 smoke and six carbon monoxide detectors in the building that did not work.
Dinesh Indala, a senior executive and vice president of operations for the PHA, says inspections are conducted annually.
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“The last inspection of B-unit was on May 5, 2021, and at that time we had six smoke detectors and three carbon monoxide detectors running,” Indala said. “We had to replace two batteries in two smoke detectors, all replaced. At a previous inspection, 28.9.2019, we also had to replace smoke detectors again in the same unit. On the A-unit, the most recent inspection on 23/4 and two smoke detectors were installed, and there were seven smoke detectors and three carbon monoxide detectors present, and they were signed by tenants as part of the smoke alarm response form. “
Indala says the PHA was not aware that 26 people lived inside the unit.
“No, we were not,” Indala said. “We are cooperating with the fire department and everyone else in the investigation right now. It’s L & I stuff. The whole family has not been notified yet, so we do not want to comment on who and what. The number of people on that property is too high.”
The PHA conducts inspections annually, the last of which was in May 2021. Indala adds that it is a public holiday and it is unclear whether “they have people coming and visiting.”
Murphy says the fire is not considered suspicious at this time, but the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Fire Marshal’s office is leading the investigation because of the loss of human life.
As the investigation continues, an emotional Mayor Jim Kenney asked the public to reserve his verdict as the city mourns an indescribable tragedy.
“This is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city,” Kenney said.
The devastating fire is being thoroughly investigated by several agencies. With the fire department deputy commissioner saying this is one of the worst fires he has seen in his 30-year career.
“We are working with the fire marshal’s office, we are planning and intending to find a cause for the fire and make sure that this huge loss of human life did not happen in vain,” Murphy said.
ATF agents also responded on the spot to help.
– ATF Philadelphia (@ATFPhiladelphia) January 5, 2022
The Red Cross says it is providing emergency assistance to a family of five displaced from the first floor.
UPDATE: The Red Cross is providing emergency assistance to a family of 5 displaced from the first floor of this morning’s tragic Fairmount fire. Our teams also provide ongoing family support to those who lost their lives.
– Red Cross Southeastern PA (@RedCrossPhilly) January 5, 2022
There are reports that this fire may have been started by a Christmas tree. However, investigators are still reviewing evidence and have not released an official cause.
A GoFundMe has been launched to help cover funeral expenses for the victims.
CBS3’s Matt Petrillo, Joe Holden, Alecia Reid and Jasmine Payoute contributed to this report.
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