12 dead, including 8 children, after Fairmount rowhome fire

12 people died after a fire inside a Philadelphia Housing Authority townhouse that authorities said had no working smoke detectors. Eight children lost their lives in Wednesday morning’s fire, the city’s deadliest single fire in more than a century.

Firefighters responded to the three-story townhouse at 869 North 23rd Street in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood around 6:40 a.m. Wednesday. When firefighters responded to the scene, they found strong flames and smoke coming from the second floor of the house.

Firefighters say the companies began work to put out the fire, which they were able to control in less than an hour. During the shooting, crews discovered that there were multiple deaths.

On Wednesday night, authorities confirmed that the fire killed 12 people. Eight children and four adults were found dead, authorities said.

Firefighters initially said 13 people were killed, seven of them children, but those figures were updated Wednesday night.

Family members say the victims were between 33 and 1 year old. They also say that two of the victims were sisters, aged 33 and 30, and that they were both mothers. The sisters each had several children, but it is unclear if all were home at the time of the fire or how many died.

Two other victims, including a child, were transferred to hospitals in the area and are in critical but stable condition. Several others were able to evacuate the home safely, according to fire officials.

“This is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in the history of our city,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday morning as he asked for prayers. “Losing so many children is just devastating.”

The property is owned, operated and inspected by the Philadelphia Housing Authority and had been divided into two units and authorities say 26 people lived in the building.

There were 18 people housed in the upstairs apartment on the second and third floors, and eight in the downstairs apartment, which included the first floor and part of the second floor, Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said.

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Officials with the Philadelphia Housing Authority told FOX 29 that the family had lived at the address since 2011, beginning their time in the home with six people. His family expanded, but authorities said they did not ask for a larger house.

When asked if 26 people was an appropriate number to live on that particular property, Philadelphia Housing Authority officials said no. A spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Licensing and Inspections said the city does not limit the number of family members that can stay in a single unit.

The mayor said that people should refrain from making judgments.

“The circumstances of each and every family are not known, and perhaps there were relatives and relatives who needed shelter,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “Obviously, the tragedy happened and we are all sorry. But we cannot judge the number of people living in the house because sometimes people just need to be inside.”

Investigators say the home was equipped with four smoke detectors and none of them were operational. The alarms had been inspected annually and at least two were replaced in 2020, and the batteries in the others were replaced at that time, officials with the Philadelphia Housing Authority said. Authorities said the last inspection was in May 2021 and the smoke detectors were working at the time.

SKYFOX was on the scene of the deadly fire later Wednesday morning. ( )

Meanwhile, many have questioned the absence of a fire escape that could have provided an additional escape route for victims trapped inside. The Department of Licensing and Inspection (L&I) said a three-story, two-family townhouse is not required to have a fire escape and claim the front door as its only exit.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said during a briefing late Wednesday morning that only two possible exits could be identified in the building due to its configuration.

Firefighters say they are working with the Office of the Fire Marshal and ATF to determine the cause of the fire.

“We plan to make sure this tremendous loss of life has not happened in vain,” said Deputy Fire Commissioner Murphy.

Murphy also called the fire one of the worst he has responded to in his 35 years on the job.

“It was terrible. I’ve been around for 35 years and this is probably one of the worst fires I’ve ever been to,” Murphy said.

During a Wednesday morning press conference at the location, fire and city officials were asked about potential issues related to 911 calls and the inability to reach dispatchers.

City officials clarified in their update Wednesday night that they received 36 calls to 911 regarding the fire between 6:36 a.m. and 6:39 a.m. Wednesday morning. They say the first call at 6:36 am was answered immediately, and the person who received the call obtained information on the location of the fire and transferred the call to fire communications less than a minute later. Fire personnel were dispatched at 6:38 am and arrived at the scene two minutes later.

Residents who live nearby tell FOX 29 that they often saw children playing outside the property and that there was a lot of activity around the house.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, although Deputy Commissioner Murphy said it is “not necessarily” considered a suspect at this time. The Philadelphia Fire Department and the Fire Marshal’s Office are leading the investigation.

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