Jeremiah spoke Thursday during a news conference confirming that 20 people – six in Unit A and 14 in Unit B – were leased between the two apartments in the row house, despite fire officials saying Wednesday. Lived in two divisions.
In 2011, three people relocated to Unit A and six to Unit B. In four-bedroom unit B, the family grew exponentially between 2011 and 2021, with at least eight children added to the home, Jeremiah said.
Jeremiah described the family in Unit B as a multi-generational family with a grandmother, her three daughters and their children. Family wants to be together and PHA has no aggression limits.
“Our policies and practices do not exclude people because they have children,” Jeremiah said. “We did not remove them because their families were growing.”
When a reporter asked Jeremiah why the PHA did not transfer some of the occupants of the two-story apartment to another unit, the CEO replied that there was no indication that the family wanted to do so.
“This is a question that, in particular, resonates with black and brown communities,” Jeremiah said, adding that he himself grew up in a similar category with 16 people.
“It’s one of the saddest days in the history of our city – it’s lost so many people in such a tragic way,” Mayor Jim Kenny said Wednesday morning. “Losing so many children is devastating. … Keep these children in your prayers.”
Jeremiah said he spoke to one of the residents who was in the burned section.
My heart breaks for her and her family, “he said in tears.
Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy told a news conference Thursday that the Philadelphia Police and ATF Philadelphia Branch were assisting with the investigation. Neither the PHA nor fire officials will comment on the suspected cause of the fire.
“This is a very shocking scene, a very complex investigation,” said Dennis Merrien, deputy chief of the fire department with the Philadelphia Fire Marshal’s Office. “It would be a challenge for us if we had to do it on our own.”
Matthew Warisco, in charge of the ATF Special Agent, said no cost would be avoided in the investigation.
The resources used include laser scanners, Merrick said.
“It’s like 3D cameras. Instead of taking hundreds and hundreds of stills, we’ve going to scan the whole room, it’s almost like a virtual reality. We can take that shot later, go back and look at the computer. And look at it in more detail,” he said.
PHA units were legally separated in the 1950s
A spokesman for the Philadelphia Licensing and Research Department said the fire broke out in a row house that had been legally divided into two apartments since the 1950s and had not been infringed.
The building is estimated to have been built in 1920, according to records.
Jeremiah said PHA is proud to invest in its infrastructure, despite being a cashless agency.
“The general housing conditions in our country are deteriorating and in some cases it is very bad,” he said. “Everywhere you look today, the tide of protectionist sentiment is flowing.
He said while conditions continue to decline, families are waiting.
“They can not wait anymore. It has become a question of life and death for many families,” Jeremiah said.
The official says PHA has replaced smoke detectors in 2019 and 2020
Firefighters put out the blaze at 6:40 a.m. Wednesday and found a “severe fire” in the kitchen area in front of the second floor. Officials said. “There is nothing to stop that fire from moving,” Fire Commissioner Murphy said.
Murphy initially told reporters that four smoke detectors were in the building, “none of which were working.”
Murphy later pointed out that Philadelphia Housing Authority records show that from 2019 to 2020 at least six battery-powered smoke detectors have been installed.
However, Dinesh Indala, senior executive vice president of PHA, said the agency had different information about the detectors.
Unit A of the apartment complex had seven smoke detections and three carbon monoxide detections in its final inspection, Indala said Thursday. According to its last inspection in May 2021, Unit B had six functional smoke detectors and three functional carbon monoxide detectors, Indala said.
Two batteries and two smoke detectors will be replaced in 2021, Indala said. According to Indola, in a study in September 2019, the smoke detectors in Unit B were also replaced.
“When we last conducted our study, the smoke detections really worked,” said PHA CEO Jeremiah. “As a result of this fire, if the Fire Marshal determines that they are not actually working or functioning, they may be damaged or the batteries must have been removed somehow. Do not go inside the units and remove the batteries.”
Indala said faulty smoke detection equipment was considered an emergency and would be replaced within 24 hours if requested and the commission would conduct inspections annually.
“Every time we come to the inspection it is clear from the last, we have to replace two batteries and replace the smoke detectors. These are 10 year old smoke detectors, so this is one of the most frequently running on our assets,” Indala said.
Residents describe escaping the fire
“Lost sisters, I never thought this would happen,” Purifoy said. “Sisters, nieces and nephews.”
She told KYW-TV that Debra Jackson’s sister managed to escape from the first floor of the house with her three children.
“Her two sons were burned and he may have inhaled the smoke. But thank God they’re alive,” Jackson said. “My heart goes out to the family who lost all their loved ones.”
The Philadelphia School District said Wednesday it is working with City Council President Darrell Clark to set up a fund to help affected families.
Some of the dead were children studying in city schools, the district administration said, without saying how many. The district said it has made counseling and support services available to grieving students.
“It’s very sad,” Richards, who lives in the block, told WPVI. “I can not come around to it.”
Richards described the area as “a very family-friendly neighborhood.”
“We will help each other get out of misery,” he said.
CNN’s Kelly McLaren, Carol Alvarado, Laura Dolan, Mark Morales and Christina Schuklia contributed to the report.
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