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Eight children among 12 fatalities in Philadelphia fire

January 6, 2022 3:41 pm
An unidentified woman reacts at the scene of a deadly row house fire. [Source: Associated Press]

Fire tore through a duplex home in Philadelphia, killing 12 people, including eight children, fire officials said.

At least two people were sent to hospitals, and officials warned the toll could grow as firefighters searched the brick rowhome, where 26 people had been staying.

The four smoke alarms in the building, which was public housing, do not appear to have been working, fire officials said.

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The blaze’s cause was not determined, but officials are shaken by the death toll — apparently the highest in a single fire in the city in at least a century — vowed to get to the bottom of it.

“I knew some of those kids — I used to see them playing on the corner,” said Dannie McGuire, 34, fighting back tears as she and Martin Burgert, 35, stood in the doorway of a home around the corner.

“I can’t picture how more people couldn’t get out — jumping out a window,” she said.

Officials did not release the names or ages of those killed in the blaze, which started before 6.30am (Wednesday US time).

As many as eight residents appear to have been able to escape the fire, which burned in a residential area of the Fairmount neighbourhood, northwest of downtown and home to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and its famous “Rocky steps.”

Streets around the fire scene remained blocked off in mid-afternoon as investigators worked. Onlookers and neighbours had largely migrated to a nearby elementary school, where relatives and friends of the home’s residents gathered to wait for news.

A small group of people, some wrapped in Salvation Army blankets, stared down 23rd Street, where the blaze happened, hugging one another and crying. Several friends of the children stopped by the school, hoping for information, after their texts and calls went unanswered.

Officials held a news conference earlier in the day, near the fire scene.

“It was terrible. I’ve been around for 35 years now and this is probably one of the worst fires I have ever been to,” said Craig Murphy, first deputy fire commissioner.

“Losing so many kids is just devastating,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “Keep these babies in your prayers.”

First lady Jill Biden, who along with President Joe Biden has deep ties to the Philadelphia area, tweeted, “My heart is with the families and loved ones of the victims of the tragic fire in Philadelphia.”

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