The cries of a frantic mother woke residents on the 1800 block of East Clementine Street in Kensington early yesterday, where a fast-moving house fire killed three children and critically injured two of their siblings.
The mother, identified by relatives as Jamika Clark, was able to save a sixth child by throwing her from a second-floor window into the arms of a waiting neighbor. Clark then jumped to safety. She was in critical condition yesterday at Temple University Hospital.
Firefighters rescued an 8-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy, identified by relatives as Jonte and Quadere. They were in critical condition yesterday at Temple University Children's Medical Center, a hospital spokesman said. The child who was thrown to safety, a 2-year-old whom relatives called C.C., was hospitalized for observation, relatives said.
Fire officials did not release the names of those who died, but relatives said they were Mahogany, 7, Shawn, 5, and Sharonda, 4.
Deputy Fire Commissioner Ernest Hargett said firefighters were having difficulty identifying the children.
"Details are sketchy, so we're not trying to label them at this point because their burns were so significant that the paramedics weren't sure," he said.
Fire investigators have not determined what caused the blaze, which is believed to have started in a sofa on the first floor.
It was reported at 3:39 a.m.
"I woke up when I heard a woman screaming," neighbor Sonia J. Ortiz said. "The lady next door was telling her, 'Throw the baby.' "
The next-door neighbor, whom residents called a hero, declined to give her name or comment.
Clark, said to be in her late 20s, was urged to jump by a cousin, who stood under the window and broke her fall.
Smoke detectors were blaring and Clark was screaming, " 'My kids. My kids,' " said another cousin, Vinny Graham, who kicked in the door with another relative. But they were pushed back by a wall of fire, he said.
"I was trying to get the kids out," Graham said.
The fire was was brought under control shortly before 4 a.m.
Clark lived in the Kensington neighborhood for about four years with her husband and six children, neighbors said. The couple recently separated, they added.
Family and friends gathered outside the charred home in Kensington, crying, hugging and shaking their heads in disbelief.
"She was good mother," neighbor Monica Yancey said of Clark. "She kept those kids clean and she always had their hair done really nice. They were sweet kids, very polite."
A makeshift shrine of candles and stuffed animals filled the sidewalk in front of the house, whose white brick and stucco siding was blackened by the fire.
"She is a beautiful woman," Ortiz said. "I never saw those kids out by themselves. They were always with their mom."
There were no firefighters or police on the scene yesterday afternoon, as passersby poked their heads into the badly damaged house. A child skipped through debris on the sidewalk. Burnt furniture, bedding and singed toys were piled by the front step.
Graham said he hoped the fire would convince Mayor Street that Kensington needs its fire stations.
William R. Gault, vice president of the Philadelphia Fire Fighters Union, said that three of the six ladder and engine companies that responded to the fire are targeted to close or be moved.