2 children badly burned in North Philadelphia fire

NORTH PHILADELPHIA - September 5, 2012

Flames broke out at 8:56 a.m. on the 2100 block of N Uber Street, at the corner of Susquehanna Avenue.

Yolanda Spencer says she was going for a walk just before 9:00 this morning when she noticed smoke pouring from a building about a block away - the very building where her aunt and cousins reside.

She tells us, "And when I came my aunt was laying on the ground, my little cousin was laying in the middle of the street all burned up real bad."

Fire crews arrived to find heavy fire coming from the second and third story of the building. The structure houses a store on the ground level with apartments on the upper floors. Four of the six apartments were occupied.

56-year-old Janet Willis is now in the hospital being treated for smoke inhalation after pulling her two grandchildren from the burning building.

8-year-old Myana Willis, who is autistic, and 1 ½-year-old Aliyana Willis survived, but suffered second and third degree burns and remain in critical condition at Saint Christopher's Hospital.

Fire officials say a police unit arrived first on the scene where he found Janet Willis struggling to get her grandchildren to safety.

Captain Clifford Gilliam of the Philadelphia Fire Department explains, "The police officer, from his report, [Janet Willis] was coming down the stairs when he got here. And she handed off one of the children to the police officer. She was in the process of self evacuating with the two juveniles."

Fire officials are working to determine the cause of the fire, but they say it did start inside the unit where the Willis' live and several witnesses, including Yolanda Spencer, say if there are smoke detectors inside this apartment building they did not go off.

Spencer says, "Now we gotta go through this. My little cousins is burnt up so bad that we don't know if they gonna make it or not. I don't think it's fair to us."

Several residents say the building has a history of problems with the electric wiring and this is not the first fire. Action News spoke directly to the owner of the building who categorically denied those claims, saying the building has passed several inspections since he purchased it back in the 1980s.

The investigation continues into what may have sparked the blaze.

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