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Eight children, two mothers among dead in Philadelphia house fire

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Two sisters and several of their children were among the 12 people killed when a fire tore through a Philadelphia rowhome that apparently had no working smoke detectors, fire officials said.

Eight children lost their lives in the Wednesday morning blaze – the city’s deadliest single fire in more than a century.

At least two people were hospitalised and some others managed to escape from the three-story brick duplex, which was public housing, officials said. The cause of the fire has not been determined. Officials said 26 people had been staying in the two apartments.

“I knew some of those kids – I used to see them playing on the corner,” said Dannie McGuire, 34, fighting back tears as she and Martin Burgert, 35, stood in the doorway of a home around the corner.

“I can’t picture how more people couldn’t get out – jumping out a window,” she said.

Officials did not release the names or ages of those killed in the blaze, which started before 6.30am.

An unidentified woman reacts at the scene of a deadly row house fire in the Fairmount neighbourhood of Philadelphia. PHOTO: AP

Family members on Facebook have identified two of the victims as sisters Rosalee McDonald, 33, and Virginia Thomas, 30. The siblings each had multiple children but it’s unclear if all of them were home at the time of the fire or how many of them died. Messages were left with several people who said they knew or were related to the victims.

Fire officials initially said 13 people died, seven of them children, but those figures were updated Wednesday evening. Eight children and four adults were found dead, officials said.

None of the four smoke alarms appeared to be working, said Craig Murphy, first deputy fire commissioner. The alarms had been inspected annually, and at least two were replaced in 2020, with batteries replaced in the others at that time, Philadelphia Housing Authority officials said. It said the last inspection was in May 2021. Smoke detectors were working at that time, officials said.

The fire burned in a residential area of the Fairmount neighbourhood, northwest of downtown and home to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and its famous steps from the film Rocky.

Streets around the home remained blocked off Wednesday evening. Moments after the last firetruck pulled away, several neighbours quietly approached the foot of the block and left candles and flowers.

In the late afternoon, onlookers and neighbours had migrated to a nearby elementary school, where relatives and friends of the home’s residents gathered to wait for news. A small group of people, some wrapped in Salvation Army blankets, stared down 23rd Street, where the blaze happened, hugging one another and crying.

Several friends of the children stopped by the school, hoping for information, after their texts and calls went unanswered.

Rabiya Turner said she rushed to bring clothes to cousins who escaped the blaze. People gathered at the school for warmth and someone to talk to, she said.

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