Cause of deadly Philadelphia fire likely Christmas tree lit with lighter: Fire chief

A quick-moving fire in a Philadelphia row home that killed 12 individuals final week, together with eight kids, likely started after a Christmas tree was lit ablaze with a lighter, fire officers mentioned Tuesday.

The intense fire started Wednesday morning on the second story of a duplex unit, and all fatalities occurred in the identical unit, metropolis officers mentioned.

A lighter was discovered close to the Christmas tree on the second ground, and there seem to have been no different potential ignition sources based mostly on the preliminary investigation, in keeping with Philadelphia Fire Chief Adam Thiel.

“We consider with certainty, with 99 to 100% confidence, that the primary merchandise ignited on this blaze was a Christmas tree,” Thiel mentioned throughout a press briefing Tuesday. “We consider with close to certainty, based mostly on the proof, that the ignition supply for that tree was a lighter that was situated close by.”

Only two individuals within the unit survived the fire, together with a 5-year-old baby, who fire officers consider was the one particular person on the second ground on the time the fire started, Thiel mentioned.

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“We are left with the phrases of that 5-year-old baby, that traumatized 5-year-old baby, to assist us perceive how the lighter and the tree got here collectively with tragic penalties, as a result of we now have disproved every other theories,” Thiel mentioned.

The fire division’s findings come after the Philadelphia Inquirer first reported final week {that a} 5-year-old reportedly advised fire investigators that he was taking part in with a lighter when the Christmas tree ignited.

Thiel mentioned Tuesday that investigators didn’t discover something to “disprove” the speculation that the 5-year-old lit the tree with the lighter. “That doesn’t show it, as a result of we’re speaking about a 5-year-old baby,” he added.

The blaze was very fast-moving and tough to battle, with excessive warmth, poisonous smoke and no visibility. Within three minutes, it was “untenable and deadly,” the fire chief mentioned.

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The fire has been labeled as incendiary, which means investigators do not consider it occurred unintentionally, he mentioned.

“We consider there was some kind of human intervention to convey the ignition supply to the primary merchandise ignited,” Thiel mentioned, a perception based mostly on the “less-certain” phrases of the surviving baby. Other companies could classify the fire as unintentional, he famous.

“I actually perceive the need for easy, clear-cut solutions. This isn’t a easy, clear-cut incident or investigation,” he mentioned.

There had been six fire alarms within the unit the place the fire started, although none had been operational, in keeping with Thiel. Four had been in drawers and inoperable, one was on the ceiling however didn’t have a battery, and one other was on the ground of a bed room without a battery.

A fire alarm within the basement, which was shared with one other unit within the constructing, was operational and went off. But it was too late to warn the occupants, most of whom had been on the third ground, Thiel mentioned.

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It will take a number of months for the division to finish a full investigation.

There had been 14 occupants on the time of the fire, metropolis officers mentioned. Two individuals, together with the kid, had been critically injured and hospitalized.

Authorities haven’t but recognized these killed, although metropolis officers mentioned a household, together with three sisters and their kids, lived within the condominium.

The constructing was operated by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. The company is reviewing the incident and can “rigorously discover all choices with regard to how we will proceed to make sure the security of our residents,” Kelvin Jeremiah, director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, mentioned Tuesday.

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