Lighter and Christmas tree sparked deadly Fairmount blaze

Fairmount fire 3
Investigators probe the cause of a fire that killed 12 people in Fairmount.
Philadelphia Fire Department

A 5-year-old boy who was playing with a lighter last week in Fairmount likely set a Christmas tree on fire by accident, igniting a blaze that killed 12 people, including eight children, officials said Tuesday.

The boy, the only person from the second floor of the two-apartment row house to survive, told authorities as much at the scene Jan. 5, according to the Inquirer.

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, speaking about the preliminary findings of the investigation at an afternoon news conference, was careful not to blame the child — whose family died in the flames — or put too much stock into his account.

“The way the investigation proceeded was an attempt to disprove the hypothesis that the way the lighter contacted the tree was in the hands of the five year old child,” Thiel said. “We could not find anything to disprove that hypothesis. That does not prove it.”

What fire investigators did find, however, with “99, 100% confidence,” was that the tree in the second-floor living room was the source of the blaze, Thiel said.

He added that the probe determined “with near certainty” that the lighter ignited the tree. Fire officials examined all other outlets and other possible sources, Thiel told reporters.

Crews continue to work at the fire site after a blaze killed 13 people last Wednesday.Philadelphia Fire Department

None of the six smoke alarms on the second and third floors of the upper unit of the Philadelphia Housing Authority-owned property were in operation at the time of the fire, authorities said.

Three were in a drawer in the kitchen and another was in a bedroom drawer, Thiel said. Two more were found with the batteries removed, he added.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ National Strike Team was called in to investigate the blaze, which broke out at around 6:30 a.m. last Wednesday on the 800 block of N. 23rd Street.