One avenue being investigated is whether a child under the age of five playing with a lighter under a tree could have started the fire, according to Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office.
Firefighters responded to the flames around 6:40 a.m. Wednesday and found “intense fire” in a kitchen area in front of the building’s second floor, authorities said.
“There was nothing to slow the movement of the fire,” said Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy, who told reporters during a news conference Thursday that the Philadelphia Police Department and the ATF branch of the Philadelphia were helping with the investigation.
“It’s a very traumatic scene, it’s a very complex investigation,” said Deputy Fire Marshal Dennis Merrigan of the Philadelphia Fire Marshal’s Office. “It’s something that would challenge us if we had to do it on our own.”
Three sisters and all but one of their 10 children died from the fire, their family said.
Rosalee McDonald, 33; Virginia Thomas, 30, and Quinsha White, 18, died, according to their cousins Frank and Pamela McDonald. Six of Rosalee McDonald’s children and three of Thomas’s children also died in the fire. The ages of their children were not given.
Thomas’ 5-year-old son survived, his cousin told CNN.
Victims remembered as others describe their escape.
“They were both good people, good mothers and very family oriented,” Frank McDonald told CNN. “Rosalee was one of the best people I could meet. She was very supportive, they both were. They came to help me with my business when I opened it.”
“Losing sisters, I never thought this would happen,” Purifoy said. “Sisters, nieces and nephews”.
Debra Jackson’s sister was able to escape from the first floor of the home with three of her children, she told KYW-TV.
“Two of her children were burned, she probably just inhaled smoke. But thank God they are alive,” Jackson said. “My heart goes out to the family that lost their entire family.”
The Philadelphia school district said Wednesday it was working with City Council Speaker Darrell Clarke to establish a fund to help affected families.
Some of the children who died were city school students, the district said, without specifying how many. The district said it has also made counseling and support services available to grieving students.
Agencies question whether smoke detectors were working
Fire Deputy Commissioner Murphy initially told reporters that there were four smoke detectors in the building, “and none of them worked.”
Murphy later indicated that Philadelphia Housing Authority records show that at least six battery-operated smoke detectors had been installed there from 2019 to 2020.
However, Dinesh Indala, the PHA’s senior executive vice president of operations, said the agency had different information about the detectors.
Unit A of the apartment had seven smoke detectors and three carbon monoxide detectors on its last inspection, Indala said Thursday. Unit B had six working smoke detectors and three working carbon monoxide detectors since its last inspection in May 2021, Indala said.
Two batteries and two smoke detectors were replaced in 2021, Indala said. The smoke detectors were also replaced in unit B in an inspection in September 2019, according to Indala.
“The last time we did our inspection, the smoke detectors were actually working,” said Jeremiah, executive director of the PHA. “If the fire marshal determined, as a result of this fire, that they were, in fact, not working or that they were, in fact, not working, it would be that they were tampered with or the batteries were somehow removed. Do not go to the units and remove the batteries. “
Defective smoke detectors are treated as emergencies and replaced within 24 hours if requested, Indala said, and the authority conducts inspections annually.
“Every time we come in for an inspection, as is clear from the last one, we had to replace two batteries, replace the smoke detectors. And these are 10-year-old smoke detectors, so that’s something that we came up with quite a bit of. frequency on our properties. “Indala said.
CNN’s Amir Vera, Jason Hanna, Kelly McCleary, Kristina Sgueglia, Rob Frehse, and Travis Caldwell contributed to this report.