The city of Philadelphia announced today preliminary findings of the investigation into a devastating fire that claimed the lives of 12 people in the city’s Fairmount section on Jan. 5.
An investigation by the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Fire Marshal’s Office – with support from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Philadelphia Police Department and other agencies – indicated the intense and quick-moving fire began after a lighter was applied to a Christmas tree. You can watch the recorded press conference online.
“Since that horrific day, the entire city has been in mourning. We are devastated by the tragic loss of 12 lives. My thoughts continue to be with the families and loved ones of the victims,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “I want to thank our Fire Department and first responders for their quick response to this fire, and express my gratitude to all involved in this thorough investigation.”
The fire began in an apartment that occupied the second and third floors of a three-story rowhouse. Fourteen people were in the unit when the fire began around 6:30 a.m. Jan. 5, including one person who was rescued by firefighters but later died. Ultimately, two people survived: an occupant who evacuated out a window, and a 5-year-old child who was found on the second floor where the fire started.
“We are left with the words of that traumatized 5-year-old child to understand how the lighter and tree came together with tragic consequences, because our investigators have disproved other theories,” said Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel.
The Fire Department found six inoperable and/or disabled smoke alarms in the unit where the fire occurred. The Philadelphia Housing Authority owns the rowhouse, which is a duplex, and last inspected the two units in April 2021 and May 2021. All smoke detectors were operating properly at those times, according to PHA representatives.
The 12 people who perished in the fire died of smoke inhalation, according to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Medical Examiner’s Office. There were nine children and three adults.
“On behalf of the entire Health Department, I want to express our deepest condolences to those who have been affected by this fire,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole. “We mourn for each of the young mothers and children lost, everything they should have been able to become and to experience, and the tremendous loss experienced by their families, their communities, and our city in this terrible tragedy.”
The American Red Cross and the Philadelphia Housing Authority continue to assist families impacted by this fire. At this moment, the Red Cross and Salvation Army have indicated goods and monetary donations are not needed. Please do not bring donations to the Bache-Martin Elementary School. Community resources and offers of support for the fire victims and their families can be made by calling the Philadelphia Housing Authority at 215-684-5300 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.