The fire was reported at 1:28 p.m. Tuesday at the West Park Apartments, a 15-story Philadelphia Housing Authority property in the 400 block of North Busti Street in the Powelton section of the city.
Authorities say the mother, Tasha Rose, left her sixth floor apartment to drop off trash downstairs. When she came back to her apartment there was smoke in the hallway.
She and a male neighbor went back into apartment 603, but they could only rescue a 3-year-old, who has been identified as Tyheed Rose. They could not get to her 4-year-old, identified as Tymear Rose, who was trapped in a bedroom.
Neighbors described what it was like in the building.
"The smoke was so bad, people were covering their noses, bending over, vomiting, things like that. Some went out on stretchers. Other than that, people were hollering about their babies," one resident told Action News.
Philadelphia firefighters arrived on the scene 6 minutes after the call went in.
Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers says normally they would respond in about a minute and a half to 2 minutes tops. But the firehouse at 43rd and Market had flooded Monday in a water main break and the trucks that are normally there and would have responded were moved to different locations.
Ayers answered questions Tuesday afternoon about whether that delay in response time because of the water main break may have cost the 4-year-old boy his life.
"I'm not a soothsayer," he said. "I don't do God work. But I wonder. I always wonder, 'What if?' And I could do 'what ifs' across the board. But I can't say."
The mother, the male neighbor, a firefighter and a child are all hospitalized. We are told that all of them will probably be okay. The firefighter is in stable condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, the child at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
An investigation is underway into what sparked the blaze.