Federal fire investigators on Thursday pledged to spare no expense in investigating the townhouse fire that killed 12 people, including eight children, in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Philadelphia Fire Department, who are working together to investigate Wednesday’s deadly blaze, did not comment on the details at Thursday afternoon’s press conference, but they hinted at a broad investigation.
“What I can tell you is that this is a resource intensive investigation. This is an exceptional time – manpower, equipment, commitment – to uncover the origin and cause of this tragedy, ”said PFD Deputy Chief Dennis Merrigan.
Due to the “scale of the scene and significant loss of life,” ATF has deployed additional resources – including fire protection engineers, electrical engineers and special agents who are experts in how fires start. – to help with the probe, Matthew Varisco, said the special agent in charge of the office’s Philadelphia field division.
Separately, officials from the Philadelphia School District have confirmed that at least some of the children who died in the fire were attending the district school. The fire also killed four adults and left two people, including another child, in critical condition.
Two of the children were college students and three were former students, while the other three appeared to have attended non-SDP schools, district spokeswoman Monica Lewis said. The district will provide counseling and support services to students and staff.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with family members, friends and school communities who mourn this unimaginable loss,” Lewis said.
A “friends and relatives” center has also been set up at the Bache-Martin primary school to provide assistance to those affected by the tragedy, as well as information and assistance to the families and friends of the victims, she said. added.
In addition, the Philadelphia School District Fund – a nonprofit organization that serves to fiscally link the private sector to the district – in conjunction with Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council Chairman Darrell Clarke, has established a funds and accepts donations to support families affected by the fire.
The fire on the 800 block of North 23rd Street started Wednesday morning on the second floor of the three-story house, which is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. At least 26 people lived on the property, which had been divided into two apartments, firefighters said.
When firefighters arrived at around 6:40 a.m., a massive fire erupted from a kitchen on the second floor and headed for the open staircase to the third floor, Philadelphia Deputy Fire Marshal Craig Murphy said. . He said there was not much to keep the flames from moving.
“It was terrible. I’ve been here 35 years now and it’s probably one of the worst fires I’ve ever seen,” Murphy remarked. The blaze was tied for the sixth-most residential fire. murderer in the United States since 1980, according to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association.
A neighbor said he heard screaming around 6:30 a.m. and came downstairs to find the house on fire. “It was such a shocking moment,” he said.
As firefighters battled the flames, they found several dead in the house. It took 50 minutes to bring the blaze under control, according to city firefighters.
Each of the families living on the property initially moved in in 2011, the PHA said.
Philadelphia is the poorest large city in the country, and housing insecurity is a huge problem for many. Pennsylvania Sen. Sharif Street, a Democrat who represents the area, said many of his constituents are taking refuge with other families to make ends meet.
“I knew some of these kids – I saw them playing around the corner,” said Dannie McGuire, 34, fighting back tears as she and Martin Burgert, 35, stood outside a house door. at the street corner. They had lived there for a decade, she said, “and some of these kids have lived here as long as we have.”
A child who escaped from the building told investigators a Christmas tree caught fire before the flames spread inside the duplex, multiple sources told NBC10.
There were six battery-operated smoke detectors installed in the house, but none were operational at the time of the fire, firefighters said. Kelvin A. Jeremiah, president and chief operating officer of PHA, said in a written statement that all smoke detectors were functioning properly when the property was last inspected in May of last year.
The city fire marshal and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were investigating the cause of the fire. Sources said investigators were examining how the flames spread so quickly and whether the Christmas tree mentioned by the child fueled the blaze.
Murphy, the deputy fire marshal, said investigators would make sure the loss of life “was not in vain.”