Jan 7, 2022 - News

Feds help probe fatal fire at Fairmount row house

A passer-by looks over the barricade on the street of Wednesday's deadly fire in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia on Thursday.
A passerby looks over the barricade on the street of a deadly fire in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia on Thursday. Photo: Matt Rourke/AP

Federal experts are assisting in the investigation into the fatal Fairmount fire that killed 12 people, including eight children, this week.

What's happening: The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will offer more resources, like equipment and electrical engineers, to the complex probe, federal and city officials said in a press conference Thursday.

  • The agency's National Response Team will also help with the investigation.

The latest: The duplex, owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, had no fire escape because it was originally built as a single-family structure, Dennis Merrigan, fire deputy chief of the Fire Marshal's Office, said Thursday.

  • "The building was not constructed to have a fire escape," he said.
  • According to a search warrant application, investigators are looking into whether a young child playing with a lighter by a Christmas tree may have ignited the fire, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Of note: City officials declined to provide any further details about the ongoing investigation.

What they're saying: PHA president Kelvin Jeremiah held a press conference Thursday, giving insight into the occupants of the building, where fire officials had said 26 people appeared to be living.

  • Jeremiah said 20 individuals were authorized to live in the duplex — 14 in a four-bedroom unit on the second and third floors and six in a first-floor unit.
  • The family who lived on the second and third floors, where the fire occurred, had moved into the unit in 2011 with six individuals and grew by eight children over the decade, he said.
  • "This was in fact an intact family who chose to live together," he said, adding, "Our policies and procedures does not evict people because they have children."

Jeremiah also noted that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors were functioning in the building at the time of PHA inspections in 2021.

  • He said the detectors were powered by batteries due to the age of the building, but they're now hard-wired in new PHA developments.

Meanwhile: Around 100 people gathered for a vigil on Thursday to mourn those lost in the fire.

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