Jan 11, 2022 - News

Officials say child ignited Christmas tree that sparked Fairmount fire

Philadelphia firefighters work at the scene of a deadly row house fire on Jan. 5 in the Fairmount neighborhood.
Philadelphia firefighters work at the scene of a deadly row house fire on Jan. 5 in the Fairmount neighborhood. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A 5-year-old using a lighter ignited a Christmas tree that sparked last week's fatal fire in Philadelphia's Fairmount neighborhood, according to preliminary findings.

Driving the news: City Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said at a Tuesday press conference that investigators pieced together the origins of the Jan. 5 fire from multiple interviews with the child.

  • All other sources of the fire, which occurred inside a duplex owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA), were ruled out with "near certainty" by city and federal investigators, he said.
  • "We are left with the words of that 5-year-old child, that traumatized 5-year-old child to help us understand how the lighter and the tree came together with tragic consequences," Thiel said.

Details: Three adults and nine children died of smoke inhalation, according to the city's Medical Examiner's Office.

  • Officials originally said eight children died in the blaze.
  • The 5-year-old was one of two survivors from the second unit, where the blaze was located inside the three-story building, Thiel said. The other escaped out of a window, he added.

The Medical Examiner's Office identified the following as victims killed in the fire:

  • Dekwan Robinson, Destiny McDonald, Janiyah Roberts, J'Kwan Robinson, Natasha Wayne, Quientien Tate-McDonald, Quinsha White, Rosalee McDonald, Shaniece Wayne, Taniesha Robinson, Tiffany Robinson and Virginia Thomas.

Of note: 14 people were in the second unit at the time of the fire, and eight in the first unit, Thiel said. Officials initially said 26 people were inside the building.

  • The second unit had seven battery-operated smoke alarms — six of which were disabled, Thiel said.

What they're saying: "I believe in our ability to create an environment where you don't have to have 20 or 30 people living in one apartment," City Council President Darrell Clarke said, citing the city's lack of affordable housing as an underlying issue.

What's next: Authorities will issue a final report when the investigation is completed, which could take months, Thiel said.

   

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