Christmas tree sparked fatal fire in Philadelphia townhouse | Local News

Christmas tree sparked fatal fire in Philadelphia townhouse

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The fire that broke out in a Philadelphia townhouse last Wednesday, killing 12 including eight children, was caused by a 5-year-old boy who lit a Christmas tree with a lighter, officials said on Tuesday. from the city.

The fire erupted before dawn, quickly engulfing the second story of a brick townhouse in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood. The 5-year-old, one of only two people in the apartment to survive, told police last week he was playing with the lighter. Investigators determined he was the only person in the part of the apartment where the fire started, Adam K. Thiel, the Philadelphia Fire Marshal, said at a press conference.

“We have the words of this 5 year old, this traumatized 5 year old, to help us understand how the lighter and the tree came together with tragic consequences.” said Commissioner Thiel. “We have refuted all the other theories.”

There were 14 occupants in the apartment at the time – not 18, as officials initially said – and all but the 5-year-old were in the rooms on the third floor. Twelve of those in the apartment, including three sisters and nine of their sons and daughters, have died. Two people, including the 5-year-old and a man who emerged from a third-story window, were hospitalized with injuries.

The townhouse was one of the properties on the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s “scattered site”, locations across the city that are owned and managed by the authority but are not part of larger public housing complexes. It was divided into two units: an upper unit, where the fire started, and a lower unit, where eight people lived, all of whom escaped.

Housing administration officials said last week that the upstairs apartment was inspected in May and all smoke detectors, which were battery operated, were working at the time.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Commissioner Thiel said investigators found seven smoke detectors in the unit after the fire. Four were found in drawers; one was found on the ground, his battery removed; and another was strapped to a ceiling, his battery removed as well. The seventh alarm, which was in a basement shared between the two dwellings, had gone off, but its alerts came too late, given how quickly the fire spread to the upper floors.

The tragedy has drawn renewed attention to a severe shortage of quality social housing in the city and across the country. The waiting list for new public housing units in Philadelphia, a city with a large population below the poverty line, spans 40,000 households and has been closed for nearly a decade.

The extended family had moved into the row apartment in 2011, having become too small for a smaller house elsewhere in social housing. Since the move in, the number of occupants on the lease has increased from six to 14, with two of the sisters having more children. While some family members had told friends and social workers that they wanted to move, housing administration officials said no one in the apartment had officially requested new accommodation.

City officials have pointed out that Philadelphia’s housing stock is old and in need of updating to meet modern safety standards, such as the smoke detectors that are wired into the building. It requires significant expense, said Kelvin Jeremiah, director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, money the agency does not have.

“This incident,” he said Tuesday, “highlights the basic truth that there is, in fact, an affordable housing crisis in the city. “

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