Five Children Killed in Philadelphia House Fire

The security bars in the windows were meant to keep the family safe. But when a fast-moving fire broke out, the bars turned the home into a deathtrap for five young children.


PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The security bars in the windows were meant to keep the family safe. But when a fast-moving fire broke out, the bars turned the home into a deathtrap for five young children.

"Nobody could get in there,'' said neighbor Beatrice Johnston, who watched in horror as the house became engulfed in black smoke Sunday morning.

Two adults managed to escape by jumping from a second-floor window, but the five children -- who ranged in age from 6 months to 6 years old -- all died. Three were siblings and the other two were their cousins, neighbors said.

The adults who escaped were believed to be the parents of the three siblings, police said. They were both seriously injured.

The one-alarm fire started around 8 a.m. Sunday in a two-story stucco rowhouse in the city's Kensington neighborhood and took just nine minutes to extinguish, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said.

But the attempted rescue of the children was hampered by the security bars in some of the home's windows, he said.

"The bars usually keep us from getting in and keep residents from getting out,'' Ayers said. "There were so many things that came together to spell disaster.''

It was not known whether the home had smoke detectors.

Firefighters combed through the house Sunday, carting out debris as investigators tried to determine what sparked the fire. Authorities declined to say if there were signs of foul play, but said they would be looking for possible code violations.

Irene Weal, who lives across the street, said the family lived in the home on the block of well-tended brick and stucco houses for a year or two.

She called 911 when she saw the smoke and flames pouring out of the home.

"It could have happened to my kids,'' she said.

Investigators said they believe the fire started on the first floor. Four of the children were found on the second floor and the fifth was on the first floor.

The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office said the names of the victims would not be released until Monday at the earliest.

Neighbors said the children were talkative and could often be seen running around the neighborhood and playing in a small pool on the sidewalk in front of the home.

Holding a picture of the three siblings on her front steps, Johnston said she remembered how they were always polite and energetic.

"They were very friendly and always spoke,'' she said. "You can't explain tragedy.''