Philadelphia fire: Investigators determine if child under 5 with lighter may have caused fire that killed 12

One wanted lead is whether a child under five playing with a lighter under a tree could have started the fire, according to Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office.

Other potential causes are also under investigation, Roh said, and there are currently no plans to lay charges against anyone in connection with the blaze.

Firefighters responded to the flames at around 6:40 a.m. Wednesday and found “a large fire” in a kitchen area at the front of the second floor of the building, officials said.

There was “nothing slowing the movement of the fire,” said Philadelphia Assistant Fire Marshal Craig Murphy, who told reporters at a press conference Thursday that the Philadelphia Police Department and the ATF Philadelphia branch were assisting with the investigation.

“It’s a very traumatic scene, it’s a very complex investigation,” said Deputy Fire Chief Dennis Merrigan of the Office of the Fire Marshal in Philadelphia. “It’s something that would challenge us if we had to do it on our own.”

The fire took place at a house that records show is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, a municipal agency that rents homes to low-income people.

Three sisters and all but one of their 10 children died in the blaze, their family said.

Rosalee McDonald, 33; Virginia Thomas, 30, and Quinsha White, 18, were killed, according to their cousins ​​Frank and Pamela McDonald. Six of Rosalee McDonald’s children and three of Thomas’s children also died in the blaze. The ages of their children have not been specified.

Thomas’ 5-year-old son survived, his cousin told CNN.

A GoFundMe page has been created to help pay for funeral expenses.

Victims remember as others describe their escape

The deceased women were very close and had lived together in the apartment since their teens, their family said.

“They were both good people, great mothers and very family oriented,” Frank McDonald told CNN. “Rosalee was one of the best people you could meet. She was very supportive – they both were. They came to help me with my business when I opened it.”

Qaadira Purifoy told CNN affiliate KYW-TV that many of those who died were family members.

“Losing sisters, I never thought that would happen,” Purifoy said. “Sisters, nieces and nephews.”

Debra Jackson’s sister was able to escape from the first floor of the house with three of her children, she told KYW-TV.

A fire in a Philadelphia house converted into 2 apartments killed 12 people.  This is what we know

“Two of her sons were burned, she’s probably just smoke inhalation. But thank goodness they’re alive,” Jackson said. “My heart goes out to the family who lost their entire family.”

The Philadelphia School District said on Wednesday it was working with City Council Chairman Darrell Clarke to set up a fund to help affected families.

Some of the children who died were students of the city’s schools, the district said, without saying how many. The district said it had also made counseling and support services available for grieving students.

Agencies wonder if smoke detectors worked

The house had been legally divided into two apartments since the 1950s and suffered no violations, according to a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Licensing and Inspections.

Assistant Fire Marshal Murphy first told reporters that four smoke detectors were in the building, “and none of them worked.”

Murphy later indicated that records from the Philadelphia Housing Authority show at least six battery-powered smoke detectors were installed there from 2019 to 2020.

However, Dinesh Indala, senior executive vice president of operations at PHA, said the agency had different information about the detectors.

Unit A in the apartment had seven smoke detectors and three carbon monoxide detectors when it was last inspected, Indala said Thursday. Unit B had six working smoke detectors and three working carbon monoxide detectors when it was last inspected in May 2021, Indala said.

Two batteries and two smoke detectors were replaced in 2021, Indala said. Smoke detectors were also replaced in Unit B during an inspection in September 2019, according to Indala.

“The last time we did our inspection, the smoke detectors were actually working,” said Jeremiah, CEO of PHA. “If the fire marshal determined, following this fire, that they were not functioning, or that they were not, in fact, operational, it would be that they were tampered with or that the batteries were withdrawn in one way or another. do not enter the units or remove the batteries. “

Defective smoke detectors are treated as emergencies and are replaced within 24 hours on request, Indala said, and the authority conducts inspections annually.

“Every time we come for an inspection, as the last one shows, we had to replace two batteries, replace the smoke detectors. And these are 10 year old smoke detectors, so this is something we come across quite often on our properties. “said Indala.

CNN’s Amir Vera, Jason Hanna, Kelly McCleary, Kristina Sgueglia, Rob Frehse and Travis Caldwell contributed to this report.

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