13 killed in Philadelphia, house on fire converted to apartment

Philadelphia officials updated the death toll Wednesday morning in a fire at a three-story row house that was converted into two apartments.

“Fire officials now confirm that 12 people – eight children and four adults – were killed in the fire on N 23rd Street. This total is one less than the number reported at an earlier press conference, when recovery operations were still underway. ” an updated news release told the city.

Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy initially said 13 people were killed; two others were taken to hospitals; And eight people managed to escape on their own, Murphy said.

According to the release, firefighters encountered heavy smoke, heat and limited visibility on all floors upon entering the building, and were able to rescue one child, who did not survive.

The fire was in the house that the owner of the record shows philadelphia housing authority, a municipal agency that leases homes to low-income people.

“This is undoubtedly one of the saddest days in the history of our city – the loss of so many people in such a tragic way,” Mayor Jim Kenney told a news conference Wednesday morning.

“Losing so many kids is just devastating. … Keep these kids in your prayers,” Kenny said.

869 N., in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood. Firefighters put out the flames at around 6:40 a.m. Wednesday at Row House on 23rd Street.

Live Updates: At least 12 dead in fire at Philadelphia row house

Firefighters found a “massive fire” in a kitchen area facing the second floor, Murphy said, and “there was nothing slowing that fire further down”.

“It was terrible,” Murphy said. “This is probably one of the deadliest fires ever.”

Fire officials said twenty-six people lived in the three-storey building – eight on the first floor and 18 on the second and third floors.

The agency’s senior executive vice president of operations Dinesh Indala said the housing authority was not aware that 26 people were living in the building. He said the agency was probing how many people were allowed to stay there.

“You don’t know each family’s circumstances, and there were probably relatives and families who needed shelter,” Kenny said. CNN Affiliate WPVI, “Obviously, tragedy struck, and we all grieve for it. But we can’t decide on the number of people living in the house because sometimes people need to stay indoors.

Murphy said the cause of the fire would be investigated.

The Philadelphia District Attorney said the city is “indebted to the victims, survivors and all of Philadelphia people for conducting a thorough investigation of this tragedy, so that we can ensure it never happens again.”

“Today, I join the people of Philadelphia in expressing my grief at the tragic loss of life at Fairmount,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted He was devastated.

“My loved ones are left to deal with this heartbreaking loss of life. Thank you to the first bravehearts to douse the fire,” his tweet read.

First Lady Jill Biden also tweeted on Wednesday saying that his hearts are with the families and loved ones of the victims.

Neighbor: ‘I can’t wrap myself around it’

Neighbors and others – some crying – gathered outside the charred home as firefighters and police worked at the scene on Wednesday morning, CNN affiliate WPVI reported.

Lindsey Hull told WPVI that she saw stretchers when she arrived at the site at 7 a.m. A friend lives next to the Row House, she said.

“It’s a house that has a lot of kids,” Hull told WPVI. “it’s sad.”

Bill Richards, who said he has lived in the block for 24 years, told WPVI that before he knew about the fire, he heard a woman shout, “Oh my god! Bap re bap!” He then heard the sound of fire engines and went out.

“It’s very disturbing,” Richards told WPVI. “I just can’t wrap myself around it.”

Richards told CNN that he had been a teacher throughout his career, and that he “can’t wrap his mind around the tragedy of these relatives who will then have to lay down their lives.”

“And I taught at the school down the street, a block away and some of those kids went there,” he said.

Richards described the area as “a very family-oriented neighborhood”.

“We will help each other get out of grief,” he said.

Some smoke detectors weren’t working, officials say

Murphy initially told reporters that there were four smoke detectors in the building, “and none of them were operating.”

Murphy later indicated that Philadelphia Housing Authority records showed that at least six battery-operated smoke detectors were installed there from 2019 to 2020.

However, Housing Authority official Indala said the agency had different information about the detectors.

Indala said one of the apartments, “A Unit,” had seven smoke detectors and three carbon monoxide detectors. He did not specify the year of the inspection, and CNN has requested clarification.

The other apartment, the “B Unit,” had six functional smoke detectors and three functional carbon monoxide detectors, as of its last inspection in May 2021, Indala said.

Indala said two batteries and two smoke detectors were then replaced. According to Indala, the smoke detectors at unit B were also replaced in an inspection in September 2019.

When asked by a reporter why the smoke detectors wouldn’t work if they were inspected in May 2021, Indala replied, “I don’t know if they were replaced or tampered with. …we are currently working with the fire department to conduct further investigations.”

It was not immediately clear which floors covered the A and B units.

Indala said faulty smoke detectors are treated as emergencies and replaced in 24 hours if requested, and the authority conducts inspections annually.

“This is one of the biggest issues for us, every time we come in for inspection – as is clear from the last one – we had to replace two batteries, replace smoke detectors and these are 10 years old smoke detectors. , so we run some on our properties quite often,” Indala told CNN affiliate KYW.

Row house was legally subdivided, city officials say

According to a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Licensing and Inspection, the Row Home has been legally divided into two apartments since the 1950s and there have been no infractions.

Department spokeswoman Karen Gus said the household has had three minor complaints since 2019, all related to garbage maintenance.

One complaint was about dustbins on the exterior of the property in September 2021 and October 2021. There were complaints about garbage and poorly maintained interior surfaces in 2019, Gus said.

According to records, the building was estimated to have been constructed in 1920.

The home is approximately 2.5 miles northwest of Philadelphia’s Center City district.

™ and © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., WarnerMedia Co. All rights reserved.