Seven of the eight children killed in the horrific Philadelphia house fire have been pictured as the DA says youngster who survived may have started the blaze by playing with lighter fluid near the Christmas tree.
Investigators are looking into the possibility that a 5-year-old child who was playing with a lighter set a Christmas tree on fire, sparking a conflagration that killed 12 people in a Philadelphia rowhome, officials revealed Thursday.
The revelation was included in a search warrant application as city and federal investigators sought to determine the cause of the city’s deadliest single blaze in more than a century, which took the lives of two sisters, several of their children and others early Wednesday.
Jane Roh, spokesperson for District Attorney Larry Krasner, confirmed the contents of the search warrant, which was first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Fire officials provided few details at an afternoon news briefing, declining to say how many people escaped the blaze or speculate on a possible cause, adding the fire scene was complex. Officials also did not say where the fire began, calling it part of the investigation.
‘I know that we will hopefully be able to provide a specific origin and cause to this fire and to provide some answers to the loved ones and, really, to the city,’ said Matthew Varisco, who leads the Philadelphia branch of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). ATF specialists and other investigators took photos and combed through the charred, three-story brick duplex.
Thomas’s four children in 2019 including daughters Natasha and Shanice
Three of McDonald’s six children are pictured after they died in the fire
Family member put together a collage of some of the victims tragically killed in the fire
Sisters Virginia Thomas (right), 30, and Rosalee McDonald (left), 33, were killed in the apartment fire
Sisters Virginia Thomas, 30, and Rosalee McDonald, 33, and eight of their 11 combined children were killed when the duplex they shared went up in flames around 6.38am Wednesday.
Two other adults, who have not been identified, were also killed in the blaze. Family members say the victims ranged in age from 33 to just one years old.
Another two, including a child, are in critical condition.
‘They’re babies, young children. They didn’t even get to experience life,’ Isaiah Brown, a cousin of the family, told Fox News.
Fire chiefs later revealed that a total of four smoke alarms failed and they fear they may recover more bodies inside the home as they work through the debris.
Fire officials said the blaze began around 6.30am Wednesday in the kitchen on the second floor then spread upwards, tearing through the top of the building. The District Attorney is now saying the blaze may have started by a child playing with lighter fluid near the Christmas tree
The children and their mothers lived together in the duplex, which spans the second and third floors, with a total of 18 people. It’s not clear how many are unaccounted for.
Fire investigators believe the blaze began in the kitchen on the second floor then spread upwards, tearing through the top of the building.
Authorities are also probing the possibility that a Christmas tree ignited the fire. The exact cause remains unclear.
A spokesperson for Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections said that while a large number of people lived in the apartment, the city does not limit the number of family members who can live in a single unit. Fourteen people were authorized to live in the four-bedroom upper apartment.
PHA ‘does not evict people because they have children,’ the spokesperson said.
‘This was an intact family who chose to live together. We don’t kick out our family members…who might not have other suitable housing options,’ he said.
Family members Qaadira and Jacuita Purifoy told CBS Philly: ‘No alarm was in the house. There were three of them and none of them worked.
‘So I feel like this could have been avoided.’
Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) said that all the alarms were inspected back in May and were working.
There were also reportedly carbon monoxide detectors that did not go off Wednesday morning.
Family member Qaadira Purifoy (pictured) told ABC6: ‘No alarm was in the house. There were three of them and none of them worked. So I feel like this could have been avoided.’ An investigation into why the smoke detectors failed remains ongoing
A GoFundMe created Thursday to cover funeral expenses has already raised more than $100,000 as of late afternoon
The fire was at 860 North 23rd Street in Philadelphia, less than two miles north of the city center and its famous Rittenhouse Square
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) deployed their National Response team to the rowhome Thursday morning help determine the cause of the fire.
The team, which specializes in determining the origin of fires, helped investigate the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and said they wanted to help ‘given the magnitude and scope of the fire,’ they told ABC6.
Mayor Jim Kenney choked on tears as he spoke at the scene. He called it ‘without a doubt one of the most tragic days in the city’s history.’
‘Please keep all these folks and these children in your prayers. Losing so many kids is devastating. Keep these babies in your prayers,’ he said.
A GoFundMe created on Thursday to cover funeral expenses has already raised more than $100,000 as of late afternoon.
Additionally, two unidentified people were taken to the hospital, ABC6 reported. One was rushed to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the other went to Temple University Hospital.
Surviving family members grieved the enormous loss of so many victims, whose ages ranged from one to 32.
Brown, who told ABC6 : ‘One was 16, one was like 10…and seven. You know, they were babies – babies, man. Young children. Didn’t even get a chance at life.’
Fire chiefs also struggled to put into words the horror of the blaze while giving an update on Wednesday morning.
‘I’ve been around for 35 years now and this is probably one of the worst fires I’ve ever been to. I don’t have the words for how we’re feeling right now,’ Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said, adding that he was concerned his team would uncover more bodies in the aftermath.
‘That number is dynamic because there’s still an ongoing recovery effort inside. That number sits right now at 13. We also had eight people self evacuate.
‘As of right now, the fire marshal along with the ATF are in the process of doing a thorough investigation of this terrible event,’ he said.
A Philadelphia firefighter at the scene of a deadly rowhouse in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia
The blaze was reported at 6.38am at 860 North 23rd Street. It started on the second floor then ripped through the third floor of the building, killing at least 13 people including eight kids
Mayor Jim Kenney (pictured) choked on tears as he spoke at the scene. He called it ‘without a doubt one of the most tragic days in the city’s history’
An unidentified woman cried into her hands at the scene of the deadly fire
A single rose laid in the street near the scene and investigators are still looking into the cause of the fire
PHA spokesperson Kirk Dorn told ABC6 that the family moved into Unit B about a decade ago. At the time they moved in, there were only six residents but the family had since expanded and there were many young children living in the apartment at the time of the fire.
Dorn also said that due to the pandemic and high demand for low-income housing in Philadelphia, the PHA could not move the family into a five-bedroom home or split them up into different units.
Neighbors watched in horror on Wednesday as firefighters continued to work through the scene.
‘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.
‘They had lived there for a decade and some of those kids have lived here as long as us.
‘I can’t picture how more people couldn’t get out – jumping out a window,’ McGuire said.
‘It is too early for us to say more. The property was last inspected in May 2021, and all the smoke detectors were operating properly at that time,’ PHA CEO Kelvin A Jeremiah said.
First Lady Jill Biden, who lived in a suburb north of Philadelphia, tweeted in response to the tragedy on Wednesday afternoon
According to ABC6, firefighters received the first call about the fire at 6.36am and were on the scene four minutes later.
They reportedly received an additional 36 calls about the blaze.
First Lady Jill Biden, who lived in a suburb north of Philadelphia, tweeted in response to the tragedy on Wednesday afternoon.
‘My heart is with the families and loved ones of the victims of the tragic fire in Philadelphia,’ she wrote.
The building had two apartments, Unit A and Unit B, which was home to a total of 26 residents.
All eight occupants in the separate bottom floor apartment, Unit A, were safely evacuated.