Officials believe they know what started the fire in Philadelphia that left a dozen individuals dead and several more injured.
The fire took place on January 5, inside of a Philadelphia Housing Authority three-story row home in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood. The blaze claimed the lives of many residents who lived within. As The Blast previously reported, up to 26 people were thought to have been in the building when it went up in flames early that morning.
Although investigators initially did not consider arson as the cause for the flames, one theory floated the possibility that the fire was caused by an electrical fire caused by a space heater. However, fire officials are now “nearly certain” that they know the cause of the fire.
Fire Officials ‘Nearly Certain’ That ‘Traumatized’ Five-Year-Old Child Started The Fire
On Tuesday, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel held a press conference to discuss preliminary findings regarding the cause of the fire. He revealed that a “traumatized five-year-old child” said that he was playing around with a lighter when he accidentally set the family Christmas tree on fire.
“Investigators believe that lighter was the reason the tree ignited,” Thiel said. “We are left with the words of that 5-year-old child, that traumatized 5-year-old child, to help us understand how the lighter and the tree came together with tragic consequences.”
Investigators have reportedly found the lighter and are “nearly certain” that this was the cause of the blaze. Officials have also stated that the boy was the only person on the second floor of the three-story building at the time of the fire.
According to a search warrant investigating the cause of the fire, the boy told several people that he was playing with the lighter. The child is one of only two people in the apartment building duplex to survive.
The twelve people who passed away all lived on the third floor of the building. Although one person was found alive, they passed away at the scene.
The fire claimed the lives of nine children and three adults. Initial reports from that day had incorrectly estimated that eight children and four adults had passed away.
The identities of the victims have since been disclosed as Dekwan Robinson, Destiny McDonald, Janiyah Roberts, J’Kwan Robinson, Natasha Wayn, Quientien Tate-McDonald, Quinsha White, Rosalee McDonald, Shaniece Wayne, Taniesha Robinson, Tiffany Robinson, and Virginia Thomas.
Family members reported that three sisters – Rosalee McDonald, Virginia Thomas, and Quinsha White – and nine of their children died in the fire. The blaze is reported to be the deadliest fire that the city of Philadelphia has seen in over a century.
Lack Of Functioning Fire Alarms Causes Public Concern
Part of the reason for the staggering total of fatalities is reported to be due to the lack of functioning smoke alarms in the building.
There were six alarms found in apartment units, but none of them were working and only one smoke alarm was installed. The only functioning smoke alarm was located in the shared basement of the building, which did little to help those trapped on the third floor.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority, who owned the duplex, claimed that all of the smoke detectors were installed and functioning as of a building inspection conducted in May 2021.
Last week, housing officials stated that the building contained tamper-resistant, 10-year detectors.
Philadelphia Housing Authority President Kelvin A. Jeremiah commented on the smoke detectors last Wednesday, saying, “This unimaginable loss of life has shaken all of us at PHA.”
“It is too early for us to say more,” he added.
“The property was last inspected in May 2021, and all the smoke detectors were operating properly at that time,” he continued. “The Fire Department, ATF, 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.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, fires involving Christmas trees are more likely to be fatal than other types of fires. According to the nonprofit safety group, Christmas trees cause approximately 160 fires per year. These fires reportedly cause two deaths each year and over $10 million dollars in property damage annually.