Jan 6, 2022 - News

Philadelphia row house fire: What we know — and don't

A police officer stands in focus behind an out-of-focus caption tape in Philadelphia's Fairmount neighborhood.
Philadelphia firefighters and police work at the scene of a deadly row house fire in the Fairmount neighborhood Wednesday. Photo: Matt Rourke/AP

As Philadelphia fire officials continue to investigate what led to the fast-moving and deadly blaze in a Fairmount row house, many questions remain.

What we know: Twelve people, including eight children, were killed inside a three-story duplex on the 800 block of N 23rd St. Wednesday morning.

  • Firefighters had rescued one child from the building, but the child did not survive, according to the city.
  • Eight people escaped from the building, which is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA). Two people, one of which is a child, were hospitalized Wednesday.
  • Four smoke detectors were found in the building but not operating, a city fire official said.
  • A total of 26 people appeared to live in the duplex — eight on the first floor and 18 people on second and third floors.

What we don't know: The cause of the fire remains unknown as the city fire department, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and others investigate.

  • Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said it was "too early" to say whether the department will pursue a criminal investigation into the deaths.
  • PHA did not respond to Axios' request for comment on whether there were occupancy limits for the duplex.

Between the lines: The property was last inspected in May 2021, and all smoke detectors were operating properly at the time, PHA president Kelvin Jeremiah said.

  • Six battery-operated smoke detectors were reportedly operating in the duplex during a PHA inspection in 2020, according to a fire official.
  • PHA inspections of leased units should happen at least once every 24 months to ensure they meet housing quality standards, according to its website.

What they're saying: Mayor Jim Kenney called it "one of the most tragic days in our city's history."

  • He also urged the public not to jump to conclusions about why so many people were in the household.
  • "Sometimes it's better for people to be indoors rather than on the street, so you don't know the circumstances of each and every family," Kenney said during a Wednesday news conference.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted that he is "devastated" and that his "heart goes out to the loved ones left to cope."

Meanwhile, Philly District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement, "The city owes it to the victims, the survivors, and to all Philadelphians to conduct a thorough investigation into this travesty, so that we can make sure it never happens again."

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