Thursday, January 6, 2022

Child Playing With Cigarette Lighter May Have Started Deadly Fairmount Fire That Killed A Dozen, Including Eight Children

By Ralph Cipriano

According to police reports, a five-year-old child has repeatedly confessed that he was playing with his mother's cigarette lighter when he set a Christmas tree on fire, igniting the Fairmount rowhouse fire that killed a dozen victims, including eight children.

The child was transported by medics to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where he was reported to have no apparent injuries. On the way to the hospital the child told  a Philadelphia Fire Department paramedic "several times" that he had accidentally set the Christmas tree on fire.

Homicide detectives who interviewed the child briefly at CHOP, said the child told them he was playing with his "mother's orange cigarette lighter" when the Christmas tree went up in flames. When the detectives interviewed the child, he was accompanied by hospital staffers from CHOP, who said the child told them the same story.

The three-story brick rowhouse at 869 N. 23rd Street is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. According to page 15 of PHA's Housing Quality Standards Inspection Resource Guide, the house should have been equipped with "At least one battery-operated or hard-wired smoke detector [that] must be present and working on each level of the unit, including the basement." 

But none of at least four smoke detectors, which were supposed to be inspected annually by PHA, were working when the fire struck. In addition, the house, which included only two apartments, was crammed with 26 residents.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy told Fox 29 that 18 people were staying in the upstairs apartment on the second and third floors, and eight more staying in the downstairs apartment, which included the first floor and part of the second floor.

Only 14 of the 26 made it out to safety.

When police and firefighters arrived at the scene yesterday morning, they found a female child victim, approximately three or four years old, on the third floor landing. Three other female victims were found in a middle rear bedroom. Six victims, all children, were found in the front middle bedroom. An adult female victim was found in the front bedroom.

In addition, two dogs were found dead in a cage in a bedroom on the third floor.

A resident of the house identified as Tyhara Woods, 30, was interviewed by police at St. Christopher's Hospital. She stated she had lived for ten years at 869 N. 23rd Street in Apartment B with her children's father, Charles Scott, 32, and their three male children, age 6, 7 and 13. 

Woods told the cops that the occupants of Apartment B at 869 N. 23rd St. included Rose McDonald and six minor children; Jen McDonald and four minor children; and Jen's boyfriend, identified as Pooda. A third sister may have also resided there with additional children, Woods told the police.

At approximately 6:30 a.m. yesterday, Woods told the police, she was in bed with Scott when she heard "yelling and screaming" coming from upstairs, and a female screaming, "Oh, my God!"

When she got up, Woods smelled smoke. She woke up her three sons, sleeping in the bedroom next door, and they fled the property through the front door. On the way out, Scott grabbed a four-year-old boy from Apartment B, who was standing at the door, and carried him out the door.

Woods said two of her sons were treated and released at St. Christopher's Hospital for minor burns to the head and arm. 

Another resident of 869 N. 23rd St., Howard Robinson, 37, told fire marshals and detectives that he resided at the PHA house on the third floor with multiple family members. At approximately 6:35 a.m. yesterday, he was awakened by screaming and the sounds of people running around.

He opened his bedroom door and immediately encountered heavy smoke and fire. He closed the door and ran to the front windows of the third floor front bedroom. He attempted to lower himself to the ground while hanging on the sill ledge, but fell all the way down to the sidewalk.

Robinson told fire marshals and detectives that he began screaming to his girlfriend to throw a child out the window, but neither she nor the child were able to get out alive. 


  1. A real tragedy - thanks for reporting on this, Ralph. The Inky article said there were 6 smoke detectors, and that NONE were working. Yet, they were supposedly checked back in the spring. The obvious question concerns the batteries that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors need to operate. I would assume that this will be investigated, as well.

    Real Christmas trees when kept indoors and not periodically watered can be a definite fire hazard. When we used real trees and removed them after Christmas, we would put them in the back yard. Just one touch of a match and they burned quite hot and VERY intensely and quickly.

    1. The liberal investigation will conclude that "white supremacy" started the fire and will demand more money from taxpayers.

  2. Sucks to be poor and Black in Jim Kenney's city of hopelessness and despair.

    If Kenney had spent more time helping poor, underserved communities of color and less time working lucrative, Henon-type side jobs for companies that do business with the city, perhaps Blacks would be better off.

    But Kenney, who made almost $400K his final year in Council (extrapolate that over 30 years!), mostly through Henon-like side jobs, wanted the easy, ethically questionable money more that social equity.

    Only now that Kenney has made a fortune monetizing his public service, does he say he cares.

    Don't get between Kenney and a dollar bill!

    Sorry Black people. Sucks to be you.

  3. A recent NYT article on this topic stated that there were 18 members of an extended family living in a 4 bedroom Section 8 building (most of the expenses for which were subsidized by Philadelphia's taxpayers).

    The article went on to say that 4 of the smoke detectors didn't work and that a 5 year old child with a cigarette lighter allegedly admitted that he set fire to the Christmas tree.

    Yes, it's unfortunate that families have to live jammed together, and it's downright tragic that some suffered and died like this.

    But clearly, some previous self restraint and prudent family planning would certainly have eased the over-crowding situation, right?

    City authorities are pledging a thorough investigation. It will be interesting to see if the smoke detectors failed on their own or if they even had batteries installed.

    1. correct that - there were 26 people here - must have been living like sardines

    2. Agreed.
      Oligarchs will soon assign and force refugees, homeless, opiate addicts into the homes of the middle class. Like in in the movie Dr. Zigvago (sp).


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