12 killed, including 8 children, in Philadelphia row house fire

The row house in the Fairmount neighborhood had been converted into two apartments. Officials said none of the four smoke detectors were working.

A catastrophic fire tore through a row house in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighbourhood before sunrise on Wednesday.

The fire which had killed 12 people, including eight children, in one of the nation’s deadliest residential fires in decades.

The victims were yet to be identified by the authorities, but relatives and friends said they included two mothers and their children.

Some attended a nearby elementary school and one possibly as young as two.

Together, they occupied the top unit of a three-story brick home in which at least four smoke detectors weren’t working.

Investigators couldn’t say what sparked the 6:30 a.m. blaze or why it became so deadly so swiftly.

Federal agents were expected to join Philadelphia fire marshals in what was likely to be a complex and lengthy probe.

The loss gripped the city and rippled across the country, drawing condolences from Governor Tom Wolf to first lady Jill Biden.

In Fairmount, a stately neighbourhood just northwest of Centre City, residents who were shaken awake by the sound of sirens and a woman screaming soon embraced on the sidewalk as first responders choked back tears.

“This is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city’s history,” an emotional Mayor Jim Kenney said during a morning news conference on the block.

“Losing so many kids is just devastating.’’

Late in the day, a few people gathered in the neighbourhood for a small vigil.

The 2,300-square-foot building housed two apartments and was owned and operated by the federally funded Philadelphia Housing Authority.

The four-bedroom upper unit where the victims lived appeared to house 18 people, three times as many as were living there when the families moved in about a decade ago, officials said.

Philadelphia Police Cpl. Jasmine Reilly said an initial 911 call was answered just after 6:30 a.m.

Fire crews arrived on the scene within five minutes.

They found flames shooting out the windows of the second floor and the heavy fire had already run up an open stairwell into the third, said Craig Murphy, first deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Fire Department.

Of the 26 people housed in the building eight in the lower unit eight people had escaped and two others, an adult and a child, were taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

“Nothing was slowing that fire down,” Murphy said, adding that aggressive attack from firefighters got the blaze under control after about 50 minutes.

Early in the day, he had said the death toll was 13 but cautioned the number could change.

With a dozen dead, the blaze ranks among the deadliest house fires in the last 40 years, according to the National Fire Protection Association, a trade group that identified just five other fires that have taken more lives since 1980.

It also becomes one of the deadliest disasters in city history worse than a 2008 house fire that claimed the lives of seven in Southwest Philadelphia, and more deadly than the 2013 Salvation Army building collapse that killed six people.

DPA

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