Rescuers: 2 dead in NE Phila. fire couldn't escape

March 15, 2011 2:38:31 PM PDT
Rescue crews say two people killed in a fire in Northeast Philadelphia needed help getting around and were unable to escape a fire in their apartment.

Firefighters were called to the Oxford House Apartments in the 6400 block of Oxford Avenue shortly before 9:00 a.m. Tuesday. When they arrived they found heavy fire coming from a first floor apartment.

When they went inside they found a middle-aged woman just inside the door. It appeared she was trying to escape the flames, rescuers said. Efforts to revive her were unsuccessful and she died later at the hospital.

As firefighters continued their search inside the apartment, they found an elderly man who had already died.

The victims have been identified as Gerald Hooper, 75, and Lynn Scripnicencu, 56.

Both of the victims used wheelchairs, investigators said. They also found walkers, crutches and canes in the victims' apartment meaning that escape would have been very difficult for them.

Maintenance man Carlos Cubilete desperately tried to save them. He ran to the apartment with a fire extringuisher and broke in the door, but he was immediately overcome by thick smoke. Cubilete was taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Investigators say it appears the fire started in a rear bedroom. They add there was oxygen equipment in that room, but it is unknown of that played a role in the fire. Neighbors say Scripnicencu was a chain smoker, a potentially explosive combination.

A maintenance worker, Carlos Cubilete, was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation.

An investigation into the cause continues. The fire was brought under control in about 23 minutes. Firefighters evacuated approximately 20 residents from various apartments who were allowed to return after the fire was declared under control.

These are the 15th and 16th fire victims in Philadelphia so far this year. That is double the number of victims from this time last year.