PHILADELPHIA (NewsNation Now) — A large fire tore through a two-unit house early Wednesday in Philadelphia, killing 12 people, including eight children, and sending two people to hospitals, fire officials said. They warned the numbers could grow as firefighters inspected the rowhome, where officials said 26 people had been staying.
The Associated Press reported the fire was the deadliest single fire in Philadelphia in at least a century. Firefighters and police responded to the fire at a three-story rowhouse in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood around 6:40 a.m. and saw flames coming from the second-floor windows, fire officials said. The house had been converted into two apartments, police said.
The fire department confirmed the building was a public housing building was owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. There were four smoke detectors in the building and none of the smoke detectors operated properly during the incident, First Deputy Commissioner Craig Murphy said.
“There was heavy fire in the kitchen area in the front of the second floor and an open stairwell to the third floor,” Murphy said. “Nothing slowed the fire down from moving.”
The PHA said in a statement the two affected units were last inspected in April and May 2021.
“This unimaginable loss of life has shaken all of us at PHA,” PHA President Kelvin Jeremiah said in a statement. “It is too early for us to say more.”
At least eight people were able to get out of the converted rowhouse, firefighters said.
“To say I’m at a loss for words is an understatement,” said Darrell L. Clarke, president of Philadelphia City Council. “It just punches you in the gut.”
The fire was brought under control after less than an hour. The cause of the fire was not immediately revealed.
“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. They had lived there for a decade, she said, “and some of those kids have lived here as long as us.”
“I can’t picture how more people couldn’t get out — jumping out a window,” she said.