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Philadelphia Officials Continue to Search For Cause of Rowhouse Fire That Killed 12, Including 8 Children

Early investigation suggests the public housing units were overcrowded and lacked working smoke detectors.

A fire investigation continued on Thursday (Jan. 6) into the tragic apartment blaze in Philadelphia that killed at least 12 people, including eight children, CBS Philadelphia reports.

At about 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday (Jan.5), fire fighters arrived at a Philadelphia Housing Authority rowhouse in the Fairmont neighborhood where two apartment units were ablaze. The victims ranged in age from 2 to 33 years old. Eight people evacuated the building.

According to The New York Times, 26 people were in the building and the smoke detectors didn’t work. The death toll surpassed a 2008 house fire in the city that killed seven people and the 1985 police bombing of MOVE separatist group that killed 11 people and destroyed 61 homes.

“It was terrible, most of, I’ve been around for 30, 35 years now and this is probably one of the worst fires I’ve ever been to,” Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said, according to CBS Philadelphia.

He added that the department’s Fire Marshal’s Office is leading the investigation into the blaze, which was not immediately considered suspicious.

Meanwhile, grieving family members are left to pick up the pieces after the tragic blaze took the lives of their loved ones. Suzy Zelley, who says her son went to preschool with one of the young victims remembered the girl, named Natasha, who was seen dancing in a video taken a few years ago.

“She’s so sweet, you can probably see her looking at her mom in the video,” Zelley told CBS Philadelphia. “She was a good girl and her mom did a really good job raising her.”

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One of the issues under investigation is whether it was safe for 26 people to live in the multi-unit building that was divided into two apartments, CBS reported. The building also had an “odd layout” that Murphy said possibly prevented a safe escape.

Dinesh Indala, a senior executive and vice president of operations for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, said the agency wasn’t aware that 26 people lived there.

The housing authority said there were a total of 13 smoke and six carbon monoxide detectors in the building, which were inspected annually. However, Murphy stated that at least four smoke detectors in the house didn’t go off during the fire, according to the Times.

“This unimaginable loss of life has shaken all of us at PHA. It is too early for us to say more,” the Philadelphia Tribune quoted Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA president and CEO. “The Fire Department, ATF (federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and others are handling the investigation. Any information on the cause will come through them. Our primary goal right now is to support our residents in any way we can.”

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