No fewer than twelve people comprising of eight children and four adult have reportedly died during a fire disaster caused by failure of smoke detectors in a public apartment that is owned by the federally funded Philadelphia Housing Authority, the fourth-largest in the United States of America.
The fire which swept through the public apartment, and considered as the worst of such fires in recent years, was allegedly caused by smoke detectors as decried by residents which were not adequately installed in the building.
The blaze was said to have broken out at the early hours of Yesterday on the second floor of a three-story row house in the city’s Fairmont neighborhood.
Confirming the fire incident, Philadelphia fire officials noted that the the death toll was down to 12, from the 13 they had earlier reported, adding that
Fire officials disclosed that the actual cause of the fire was still being investigated, but that the building was overcrowded, with 26 inside a structure meant to accommodate two families, and they cited the failure of smoke detectors.
Reacting to the fire, Deputy Fire Commissioner, Craig Murphy, explained that the sight of the fire was horrible and scary as it was the worst she had ever seen in her service, adding that how the fire engulfed the building was terrible and better imagined than experienced.
“It was terrible. I’ve been around for 35 years now and this is probably one of the worst fires I’ve ever been to.” he said.
Also, a housing attorney at Philadelphia’s Community Legal Services, Jenna Collins, said some tenants had requested hard-wired detectors, adding that the housing authority appeared to have installed enough detectors and inspected them frequently enough to comply with the codes. She said it was not unusual to see overcrowded public housing.
“It’s a symptom of the fact that there’s not enough habitable, affordable housing, Especially right now, when we’ve had so many people in the city lose income.” she said.
On their part, Fire department officials said that four smoke detectors which were installed in the building had last been inspected in 2020 while Executive Vice President at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Dinesh Indala, said that there were six devices last inspected in May 2021 which gave Conflicting accounts about the building’s smoke detectors.
According to an eye witness whose identity was not stated, they were jolted awake by the sound of screams and a smell of burning, and ran outside to see flames licking second-floor windows.
Also, a resident decried that the housing authority should replace battery-powered smoke detectors with hard-wired detectors, saying tenants sometimes removed the batteries when cooking or smoking inside.
Meanwhile, according to Philadelphia Housing Secretary, Marcia Fudge, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has offered assistance and the situation was under control.