Mt. Airy, Pennsylvania Fire Leaves 7-Year-Old Boy Dead

A fire that swept through a Germantown Avenue apartment after daybreak yesterday and killed a 7-year-old boy started in a portable cooling fan, fire officials said.

Relatives of Joshua Foster said they were planning to get together yesterday to plan his burial.

"We're going to make the funeral arrangements at 2 o'clock," said Deleah Belcher, 23, as she and other relatives and friends surveyed the damaged building at 6370 Germantown Ave. in Mount Airy, hours after the blaze had been put out.

Witnesses said the fire spread rapidly through the second floor of the three-story building that bears a 1752 historic marker and is near Cliveden, the site of the 1777 Battle of Germantown. It was declared under control at 6:12 a.m.

The first floor of the building is home to the G Spot, an adult-merchandise store, while the second and third floors house individual apartments.

Asia Jones, 22, who lives next door, said she was awakened by the clatter of fire equipment and raced outside. "I saw people crying and screaming. Everything was crazy," she said. "They tried to save the little boy. There were flames coming out the window, flames everywhere."

Fire officials said that the initial report came at 5:54 a.m. and that crews found heavy smoke and flames emanating from the second floor, the apartment occupied by Loretta Foster, 30, and her son, Joshua, and daughter, Shaquilla, 9.

Foster and her daughter escaped, fire officials said, along with a family with three children living in the third-floor apartment and the building's owner, who lived in a first-floor rear apartment. Officials said the bulk of the damage was confined to the second floor.

Jones, who used to work at the G Spot, said Joshua often came in to visit her. "He used to come in the shop every day and talk to me," she said, recalling that he was "very, very sweet, full of joy, always smiling, always a pleasant child."

"He was a big little 7," she said. "Little round face. He didn't even have a chance at life."

Joshua's death in Mount Airy yesterday, which occurred two days after five children died in a Kensington house fire, brought the total number of child deaths in city house fires this year to 10, the Fire Department said. In all of 2005, there were 11 children killed in house fires, according to the department.

Services have been set for three of the five children who died in Sunday's fire: Summer Cooke, 5, Samantha Bowers, 4, and Sabrina Bowers, 1. A viewing will be held from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Friday at Mount Zion Church at Ruth and Somerset Streets in Kensington, followed by the funeral service.

The three died along with Amber Johnson, 3, and her brother Reginald Ringgold, who were spending the night with the Bowers children.

Shannon Bowers, 21, remained in critical condition yesterday at Temple University Hospital, officials said.

Three children died in a rowhouse arson fire in the 1800 block of Clementine Street in Kensington on May 14. Mahogany D. Porter, 7, and her siblings Shaune L. Porter Jr., 5, and Sharonda Porter, 4, were killed in that blaze. A woman, Zakeeyah Harper, 22, has been charged with three counts of murder and arson.

Fire Department Executive Chief Daniel Williams said the department has been working to inform residents about fire safety, sending firefighters into communities where fatal fires have occurred.

"Our mission is to make people aware of the safety issues," Williams said. He advised anyone who wants to obtain a smoke detector to call the smoke alarm hotline at 215-686-1176.

Distributed by the Associated Press