Philadelphia apartment fire 2022

Article

January 20, 2022

All events use the Eastern Time Zone. On the morning of January 5, 2022, a fire devours a tenement converted into an apartment in Fairmount, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Twelve people died, nine of them children, and two others were injured. An additional eight people escaped unharmed. The fire broke out just four days before the 2022 New York City apartment fire, also in the Northeastern United States.

Buildings

The building is a three-story tenement divided into two apartments and run by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. The building has a fire extinguisher at the common entrance on the first floor, but since neither the city building guidelines nor the PHA policy require additional action for a rental unit of such size, there were initially no other safety measures. The building does not have the additional fire extinguishers, sprinklers, fire escapes, or tamper-proof smoke detectors provided at the rental. PHA has installed four smoke detectors in the duplex in 2019 and an additional two in 2020. Units were inspected by PHA separately in April and May 2021 and both were found to have working smoke detectors at the time. There are 26 people living in the duplex with 18 people lived on the front of the second floor and the whole of the third floor. The other eight people lived on the first floor and the back of the second floor.

Fire

The fire started around 6:30 am on the second floor of the duplex and neighbors said they heard screams at the same time. Firefighters found a large fire emanating from the kitchen area and moved up the stairs to the third floor. Firefighters and investigators believe the fire started in a Christmas tree in the southwest corner of the second-floor unit, near the open staircase to the third floor. From the smoke alarm in the unit when the fire started, nothing worked. Four had been placed in a drawer and were inoperable, one was ceiling-mounted and had no battery, and the last one was found on the bedroom floor without the battery. Of the 14 people occupying the unit at the time, only two were rescued. A 5-year-old child was found on the second floor and an adult managed to get out of the window, with both classified as seriously injured and hospitalized. The boy later told investigators at the hospital that he had been playing with orange matches and accidentally set the tree on fire. A lighter was found near a tree after the fire was extinguished and no other potential sources of ignition were found during preliminary investigations.

Victims

Of the tenants of the second and third floor rentals, 12 people died, consisting of three adults and nine children. Everyone who died was a member of the same family and lived in the same unit. A relative told reporters that in the fire he lost his three daughters aged between 33 and 18 and nine grandchildren aged 16 to 4. City officials did not release the age or names of the victims at first, but later confirmed the ages and identities of the adults and children.

Investigation

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced on January 6, that they were mobilizing their National Response Team to help with the investigation due to the magnitude of the fire to help the city's fire marshal and police department. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a 5-year-old boy who escaped the fire stated to investigators that the blaze started after he accidentally lit a Christmas tree on fire while playing with a lighter. The Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel told reporters on January 11, that the commission believed with a "99 to 100% confidence" that the fire was caused by a Christmas tree in the second floor unit, but could not definitively say who started the fire.

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