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A look at the three-story duplex at 869 N. 23rd street, which was engulfed in flames on the morning of Jan. 5, 2022. Screenshot: Google Maps
A look at the three-story duplex at 869 N. 23rd street, which was engulfed in flames on the morning of Jan. 5, 2022. Screenshot: Google Maps

Morning fire in Fairmount kills at least 12

“This is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city’s history," said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.

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At 6:38 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 5, the Philadelphia Fire Department responded to what was later described as a “heavy fire” coming from the second floor of the three-story row home at 869 N. 23rd street in the Fairmount section of the city.

It took about an hour for the firefighters to get the blaze under control, and once extinguished, at least 12 of the building’s occupants were dead, including nine children.

“I’ve been around for 35 years now, and this is probably one of the worst fires I’ve ever been to,” said First Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy in the first press briefing in the blaze’s aftermath.

Preliminary reports say 26 people lived in the building that had been split into a duplex, with one unit occupying the entire first floor and the rear of the second, and the other occupying the front of the second and all of the third floor. Murphy said there were only two exits — a front door and rear door.

The first unit reportedly housed eight people, while 18 were living in the second.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said to hold judgement on the amount of occupants given the cold weather and the potential need for loved ones to be housed, but Murphy said it was a “tremendous amount of occupants to be living in a duplex.”

Eight people self evacuated, and two were taken to local hospitals for treatment. One was an adult, and the other was a child.

Currently, the Philadelphia Fire Marshall’s Office is working with the ATF to uncover a cause of the fire and potentially find more victims.

Murphy also revealed that at least four smoke detectors never went off in the building. Four were installed at an inspection of the property in 2019 and two more were installed at an inspection in 2020. Later reports revealed that there were 13 total smoke detectors in the building. A final inspection was done on the property in May 2021, and all were reported to be functioning.

The property was owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA).

“This unimaginable loss of life has shaken all of us at PHA. It is too early for us to say more... Our primary goal right now is to support our residents in any way we can,” said PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah in a press release.

In the meantime, as local news stations have reported since learning of the deadly fire, it has left a community with a hole it will likely never fill.

“I don’t have the words for how we’re feeling right now as a community and as a department,” said Murphy.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the revised fire death count of 12, which was announced by the city on the night of Jan. 5, 2022. It also confirmed the death of nine children instead of the seven initially reported.
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