At least 13 people, including seven children, were killed Wednesday morning when a fire engulfed a rowhouse-turned-apartment in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood, officials said.
Firefighters responded to the blaze on the 800 block of N. 23rd Street at around 6:40 a.m., and, when they arrived, they spotted heavy flames emanating from a second-floor kitchen area, Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said.
Murphy, during a late morning news briefing, said the death toll was “dynamic because there’s still an ongoing recovery effort inside.” Crews spent just under an hour getting the fire under control.
“I don’t have the words for how we’re feeling right now as a community and as a department,” Murphy told reporters.
Two people, including a child, were transported to the hospital for injuries, and eight people self-evacuated, Murphy said.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross said it was providing assistance to a family of five who were displaced from the first floor of the building.
“This is, without a doubt, one of the most tragic days in our city’s history,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “Please keep all of these folks, and especially these children, in your prayers. Losing so many kids is just devastating.”
No cause has been determined, authorities said. The blaze is being investigated by the Fire Marshal’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Wednesday afternoon that it was “too early to tell” whether there will be a criminal investigation, and District Attorney Larry Krasner said his office is not currently involved in the probe
Murphy said the building was a duplex-style apartment, with one unit taking up the first floor and part of the second floor and the other unit taking the rest of the second floor and the third floor.
Preliminary information indicates that eight people were in the lower unit and 18 people were in the upper apartment at the time of the fire, he added. The property is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
“This unimaginable loss of life has shaken all of us at PHA,” said Kelvin Jeremiah, the authority’s president and CEO, in a statement. “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.”
Murphy said the building had four smoke detectors, none of which were working.
The crowded apartment units sparked discussion about a lack of accessible, affordable housing in Philadelphia.
“Housing stability and housing health are public safety issues with which law enforcement is all too familiar,” Krasner said in a statement. “A lack of safe, healthy, and stable housing is something that too many victims of crime have experienced, and that too many people who engage in criminal acts have in common.”