PHILADELPHIAWitnesses recounted seeing flames shooting out of the windows and hearing screams for help as a ferocious fire tore through an row house in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning, killing at least 12 members of an extended family, including eight children.
They were smart, great kids, they were all great kidsthe youngest was 1, Tashia Price, who described herself as a family friend, told ishonest. She added that she believed all of the children who died were under 10, with most of them just babies.
They didnt even get a chance to experience life, she added.
There was nothing slowing that fire down from moving, he said, calling it one of the worst fires hes ever attended in his 35-year career.
At least 26 people were inside at the time of the fire, including eight in a separate unit on the first floor. The other 18 were in the upper duplex, with Murphy calling that "a tremendous amount of people to be living in a duplex.
Philadelphia does not limit the number of people who are allowed to live in a single unit.
There were only two exits in the house, a front and rear entrance, Murphy said.
Regina Cureton, a PHA resident who lives a few blocks away, said she had sounded the alarm about the number of fire escapes two years ago.
I was told by PHA I could jump out the window if theres a fire. They told me that theyre not responsible for my fire escapes, she told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
We are cooperating with fire department and everyone else in the investigation right now, he added.
PHA president and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah confirmed the May 2021 inspection, adding in a statement, [T]his unimaginable loss of life has shaken all of us at PHA.
Neighbors described being rattled awake by screams and billowing smoke. Stuart Rome, a neighbor, told ishonest that his wife smelled smoke at about 6: 30 a.m. and ran outside, grabbing whatever blankets and coats she could.
She saw flames shooting out of the windows, he said. One of the neighbors had heard screams and called the fire department. They were here pretty quick.
He said the building appeared to house a lot of people. Weve lived with that home for 30 years, the people there were wonderful, the kids were great, Im just heartbroken.
Another neighbor, Bill Richards, told the Inquirer, About a quarter of seven, I heard a woman yelling Oh my god, oh my god.
Murphy said crews arrived to find heavy fire coming from the second floor in what appeared to be a kitchen area. It took 50 minutes to get the blaze under control.
By mid-morning, the Fairmount neighborhood was filled with emergency vehicles, victims families, and devastated passers-by. A rainstorm overnight left 23rd Street filled with puddles, in stark contrast to the scent of burning in the air.
Its a tragedy waiting to happen, Susan Cosby, a local PHA resident, told ishonest. [Seven] babies dead, thirteen people shouldnt be dead, living in PHA.
The tragic death toll nearly doubled that of a devastating 2014 blaze in Philadelphia that claimed seven lives, including four kids.
This is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our citys history, the loss of so many people in such a tragic way, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said. Losing so many kids is just devastating.
Harry Siegel contributed to this report.