PHILADELPHIA – A dozen people were killed, including eight children, in an apartment building fire Wednesday morning in what city officials called a “tremendous loss of life.”

Hours after the blaze, the Philadelphia Fire Department cautioned the death toll could change as the building was secured and searched. The department reported 12 deaths, down from 13 in its initial report.

It is believed that the fire was one of the most deadly in history. However, no cause for it has been identified. Officials pledged to keep investigating.

Eight people managed to flee the burning building. A child and another person were also taken to a hospital for treatment, Philadelphia Fire Department First Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said in a news conference.

The bodies of the victims were taken from the burning building by seven police vehicles, four of which were vans.

The building was owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the country’s fourth largest public housing agency, and had been converted from a large row house into two apartments, Officer Miguel Torres of the Philadelphia Police Department told USA TODAY.

Murphy stated, “I have been here for 35 years and this fire is possibly the most horrible I’ve seen,” 

Philadelphia firefighters responded at about 6:40 a.m. and found “heavy fire” on the second story of a three-floor row house. Firefighters entered the structure to discover thick smoke, heat, and little sight from each floor. The fire crews set up ladders to spray water onto the flames, which allowed them to reach the child and save it. The department stated that another child was not saved by the crews. 

Controlling the flame took approximately 50 minutes.

Rebecca Miller, who lives nearby, stepped outside around 7 a.m. and could see smoke and fire trucks. It was also said that she could hear “screaming” from an adult woman.

Smoke detectors in the building were battery-operated with 10-year lithium batteries, but “none of them operated,” Murphy said.

The building was last inspected in May 2021 and smoke detectors were working properly then, Philadelphia Housing Authority President Kelvin Jeremiah said in a statement on Facebook.

PHA is shaken by this unimaginable loss. It is too early for us to say more,” Jeremiah said.

At least 18 people were living in the upper apartment, which included the third floor and part of the second, and eight people were living in the lower unit, which included the first floor and the other part of the second, Murphy said. The deputy fire commissioner could not say whether that was more than what would be allowed but called it a “tremendous amount of people to be living in a duplex.”

Murphy said the fire marshal would investigate the cause of the fire. The scene was also attended by officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Murphy indicated that while the fire was not necessarily suspected of being suspicious, he said the bureau would conduct an investigation.

“We plan on making sure that this tremendous loss of life did not happen in vain,” he said.

Fatal fire that took place at the 800 block of N. 23rd St. in Philadelphia, PA. Authorities have reported 13 dead including 7 children. 
Joe Lamberti- GannettNJ USAToday Network

Early Wednesday, a few people in the Fairmount neighborhood gathered on a nearby corner. They were shocked, angry and sad.

“I knew some of those kids — I used to see them playing on the corner,” said Dannie McGuire, 34, fighting back tears as she and Martin Burgert, 35, stood in the doorway of a home around the corner.

“I can’t picture how more people couldn’t get out — jumping out a window,” she said.

Longtime Fairmount resident Ronald Umbrey recalled seeing children play around the residence. He said people moved in and out fairly often, and the residence “just didn’t look safe to me.”

I lived there for 25 years, and have never witnessed such a flame. I didn’t know anyone who lived there personally, but anytime someone perished in a fire, it had to bad,” Umbrey said.

Avery McDonald, Temple University’s nursing student, could not believe that the “destruction of life” had occurred. 

She stated, “I kind of felt helpless.” “But I don’t know what could have been done to save those people.”

Aerial footage from WPVI-TV showed the top two floors of the building near the corner of an intersection burned out and blackened near the windows.

Jasmine Stokes said she heard a commotion in the morning, and a neighbor told her what happened later.

“That was a big place, and it’s a shame that children lost their lives,” Stokes said. It’s hard to believe that it couldn’t have happened.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a Twitter statement, saying that he was devastated by the fire. 

He said, “My heart goes out for the loved ones left with to deal with this devastating loss of life.” “We are grateful to first responders who brought the fire under control.

Mayor Jim Kenney, who was the son of a firefighter and mayor, described the incident as “one of most tragic in the city’s historical history.”

It’s just too devastating to lose so many of your children.

Contributing: Associated Press

Source: USAToday.com

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