Questions over smoke detectors, occupants linger after deadly Fairmount fire

"We don't know if they were replaced or tampered with," one official said.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Officials are working to determine if a Philadelphia duplex had working smoke detectors after a fire tore through the home Wednesday morning in Fairmount killing 12 people, including eight children.

A fire official said the number of fatalities is "dynamic," indicating the number of those killed could change as the recovery continues.

The duplex is a Philadelphia Housing Authority property. Officials said one of the units was inspected in April 2021 and the other in May 2021. At that time, all smoke detectors were "operating properly."

Action News has learned there were seven smoke detectors and three carbon monoxide detectors in one of the apartments, and six smoke detectors with three carbon monoxide detectors in the other.

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Sources say a blaze that killed 12 people was possibly sparked by a Christmas tree fire. Bob Brooks reports for Action News at 11 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2022.



Fire officials say when they arrived on scene, the smoke detectors were not operating.

"We don't know if they were replaced or tampered with. We have no idea," said Dinesh Indala, senior vice president of operations for the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

The other lingering question: how many people occupied the duplex?

Fire officials said 18 people were living in the upstairs apartment known as Unit B, which was comprised of the 2nd and 3rd floors of the duplex. Another eight people lived on the first floor, Unit A.

However, the Philadelphia Housing Authority said they were only aware of 14 residents in Unit B when they did their last occupancy recertification in October.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy noted that it was a large number of people to be occupying a duplex, but a spokesperson for Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections said the city does not limit the number of family members who can stay in a single unit.

In all, fire officials said a total of 26 people were living in the duplex, though, officials stressed that number could change.

The mayor said people should withhold judgment.

"You don't know the circumstances of each and every family, and maybe there were relatives and family that needed to be sheltered," Kenney said. "Obviously the tragedy happened, and we all mourn for it. But we can't make judgment on the number of people living in the house because sometimes people just need to be indoors."

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The Department of Licenses and Inspections says there is no limit to how many people can live in a single-family home under current law.

PHA officials said because of the demand for housing and the pandemic, the family could not be moved into a bigger larger unit.

There was no immediate word on the cause of this fire, but sources tell Action News that investigators are looking into the possibility the blaze might have been sparked by a Christmas tree fire.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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