Philadelphia apartment fire caused by Christmas tree ignited by lighter, officials say – Daily Mail

Philadelphia fire officials confirmed that a deadly rowhouse fire that killed 12 people, including nine children, was caused by a Christmas tree that had been ignited by a lighter.

The Fairmount duplex, which housed 26 people, caught fire on Wednesday after a five-year-old boy living on the second floor was believed to be playing with the lighter and sparked a blaze that eventually caused the building to go up in smoke, officials said Tuesday. 

Local firefighters responded to the scene after the blaze was reported at 860 North 23rd Street at 6:38 a.m. 

Despite getting the fire under control within an hour, 12 of the 18 residents living on the second and third floors of the housing complex passed away from smoke inhalation. 

Investigators looked thoroughly for the source of the ignition before coming to the conclusion that a lighter found near the Christmas tree was most likely the cause.

‘We believe with certainty – so 99 to 100% confidence – that the first item ignited in this blaze was a Christmas tree,’ Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said Tuesday at a press conference.

‘We believe with near certainty, based on the evidence, the ignition source for this tree was a lighter that was located nearby.’

Thiel also revealed that seven faulty smoke detectors were found in the apartment during the course of the investigation.   

Philadelphia fire investigators have determined the cause of the deadly Wednesday fire was a Christmas tree that was believed to be ignited by a five year old boy living on the second floor

Philadelphia fire investigators have determined the cause of the deadly Wednesday fire was a Christmas tree that was believed to be ignited by a five year old boy living on the second floor

Philadelphia fire investigators have determined the cause of the deadly Wednesday fire was a Christmas tree that was believed to be ignited by a five year old boy living on the second floor

The fire had claimed the lives of 12 residents, including nine children, after it sparked early on Wednesday morning

The fire had claimed the lives of 12 residents, including nine children, after it sparked early on Wednesday morning

The fire had claimed the lives of 12 residents, including nine children, after it sparked early on Wednesday morning 

Flowers, candles and toys were left in remembrance of the victims in the deadly blaze

Flowers, candles and toys were left in remembrance of the victims in the deadly blaze

Flowers, candles and toys were left in remembrance of the victims in the deadly blaze

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel revealed the cause of the fire at a press conference on Wednesday which was revealed to be one of the worst blazes in the city's history

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel revealed the cause of the fire at a press conference on Wednesday which was revealed to be one of the worst blazes in the city's history

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel revealed the cause of the fire at a press conference on Wednesday which was revealed to be one of the worst blazes in the city’s history

The 12 victims in the deadly fire were revealed to be DeKwan Robinson, Destiny McDonald, Janiyah Roberts, J’Kwan Robinson, Natasha Wayne, Quientien Tate-McDonald, Quisha White, Rosalee McDonald, Shaniece Wayne, Taniesha Robinson, Tiffany Robinson and Virginia Thomas. 

In terms of the apartment structure, 18 people lived on the second and third floors of the duplex apartment with eight living on the first. 

The fire had started on the second floor before making its way and engulfing the top of the building.

‘Fire conditions were not what you see on television,’ Thiel also said at the conference. 

‘There was zero visibility, high heat – and by high heat, I’m talking about 900-1,000 degrees at the ceiling – toxic smoke filling the entire building, and it’s loud in a fire.’ 

After 50 minutes, crews managed to get into the building but found that 12 residents had already perished. 

However, they still were able to rescue two survivors, one of whom was a child and was taken to the hospital.

All eight residents on the first floor escaped from the blaze unharmed. 

Four of victims Virginia Thomas's children pictured in 2019

Four of victims Virginia Thomas's children pictured in 2019

Four of victims Virginia Thomas’s children pictured in 2019

Three of victim Rosalee McDonald's children are pictured after they died in the fire

Three of victim Rosalee McDonald's children are pictured after they died in the fire

Three of victim Rosalee McDonald’s children are pictured after they died in the fire

McDonald had been the mother of six children which included three girls and three boys

McDonald had been the mother of six children which included three girls and three boys

McDonald had been the mother of six children which included three girls and three boys

Victim Quinsha White was one of the 12 killed in the deadly fire on Wednesday

Victim Quinsha White was one of the 12 killed in the deadly fire on Wednesday

Victim Quinsha White was one of the 12 killed in the deadly fire on Wednesday

The fire also claimed the life of Virginia Thomas

The fire also claimed the life of Virginia Thomas

The fire also claimed the life of Virginia Thomas

Quintien Tate McDonald

Quintien Tate McDonald

Tiffany Robinson

Tiffany Robinson

Victim Rosalee McDonald’s two children Quintien Tate McDonald, 16, (left) and two-year-old Tiffany Robinson were the oldest and youngest victims in the fire amongst the sister’s children

‘Rest assured, those firefighters did their level best – as our medics did their best – to save those lives,’ Thiel said. 

‘Tragically we know that despite the best response from our dedicated firefighters, medics, dispatchers, sometimes we are too late.’

The fire had claimed the lives of three sisters Rosalee McDonald, 33, Virginia Thomas, 30, and Quinsha White, 18, as well as their nine children who ranged in age from two to 16, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

The sisters’ cousin Aneisha Thomas spoke to the Inquirer as she mourned their tragic loss.

‘When I go visit Philly, it’s going to be a void,’ Thomas, 36, told the Inquirer. ‘It’s going to be a blank stare when I visit because of how I can’t go visit them.’

Other city officials also spoke out about the deadly fire as it was considered one of the worst tragedies in the city’s history.  

Mayor Jim Kenney choked on tears as he spoke at the scene. He called it ‘without a doubt one of the most tragic days in the city’s history.’ 

‘Please keep all these folks and these children in your prayers. Losing so many kids is devastating. Keep these babies in your prayers,’ he said.  

Fire chiefs also struggled to put into words the horror of the blaze.

‘I’ve been around for 35 years now and this is probably one of the worst fires I’ve ever been to. I don’t have the words for how we’re feeling right now,’ Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said, adding that he was concerned his team would uncover more bodies in the aftermath.  

‘That number is dynamic because there’s still an ongoing recovery effort inside. That number sits right now at 13. We also had eight people self evacuate.

‘As of right now, the fire marshal along with the ATF are in the process of doing a thorough investigation of this terrible event,’ he said.   

First Lady Jill Biden, who lived in a suburb north of Philadelphia, also tweeted in response to the tragedy on Wednesday afternoon.

‘My heart is with the families and loved ones of the victims of the tragic fire in Philadelphia,’ she wrote. 

Family members gather for a vigil for the victims of the fatal rowhouse fire in front of the Bache-Martin School in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia

Family members gather for a vigil for the victims of the fatal rowhouse fire in front of the Bache-Martin School in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia

Family members gather for a vigil for the victims of the fatal rowhouse fire in front of the Bache-Martin School in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia

A family member gathers with community members for the candlelight vigil

A family member gathers with community members for the candlelight vigil

A family member gathers with community members for the candlelight vigil

Balloons are released during a vigil by the Bache-Martin School to honor the victims on January 6

Balloons are released during a vigil by the Bache-Martin School to honor the victims on January 6

Balloons are released during a vigil by the Bache-Martin School to honor the victims on January 6

The building, which is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, had fourteen tenants authorized for the four-bedroom apartment. 

A spokesperson for Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections said that while a large number of people lived in the apartment, the city does not limit the number of family members who can live in a single unit.  

PHA ‘does not evict people because they have children,’ the spokesperson said.

‘This was an intact family who chose to live together. We don’t kick out our family members…who might not have other suitable housing options,’ he said.  

Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) said that all the alarms were inspected back in May and were working. 

There were also reportedly carbon monoxide detectors that did not go off on the morning of the fire.     

This tragedy comes before another fire broke out at an apartment building in the Bronx on Sunday that claimed the lives of 17 people.

The fire had been caused by a malfunctioning electric space heater which sparked one of the deadliest blazes in NYC history.  

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