At least 13 people — seven of them children —were killed when fire tore through a Philadelphia home earlier today.
Firefighters responded to a call at around about 6:30am, local time, to a Philadelphia Housing Authority property in the Fairmont area, and found flames coming from the second floor.
They managed to get the blaze under control within an hour.
The four smoke alarms in the building were reportedly not working at the time of the fire, and Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy told reporters that only two potential fire exits could be identified.
He said that the fast-moving “heavy fire” quickly engulfed the kitchen area of a second-floor apartment and ran up an open stairwell to the third floor.
Commissioner Murphy told reporters: “the only thing that was slowing that fire down from moving was…” before adding “…nothing was slowing that fire down.”
He went on to say that an investigation was under way to determine the cause of the fire, saying “we plan on making sure that this tremendous loss of life did not happen in vain.”
“Let me be painfully clear,” he said, “that we’re in the process of investigating this to the highest level that we can.”
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The fire was “not necessarily considered suspicious,” he added, and at least 26 people were living in the three-storey building.
Precise casualty figures are not yet confirmed, with local police only reporting that there were "multiple" fatalities.
Local Regina Cureton told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she had reported her concerns about fire precautions in the building: “we were afraid that this was going to happen and they never took care of that issue,” she said.
Philadelphia Housing Authority President Kelvin Jeremiah said in a statement the property was last inspected in May and that smoke detectors were operating properly at that time.
Otherwise, he said, “it is too early for us to say more,” adding “This unimaginable loss of life has shaken all of us at PHA.”
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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney asked for people’s prayers, saying “this is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city's history. Losing so many kids is just devastating.”
Local Council President Darrell Clarke said “To say you have a loss of words is an understatement, this punches you in the gut …children.
“People in the community. It’s just tragic. I don’t know what to say. It’s so sad.”
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