Tragic Fire Kills 7 in Southwest Phila.

Firefighters found victims huddled together in home

A house fire apparently caused by an exploding kerosene heater killed seven people, most of whom were found huddled together in the basement, a survivor and firefighters said.

Those killed in the Friday night blaze were four adults and three children, including a 1-year-old, who was cradled in the arms of another victim.

Four people survived the fire, which broke out around 10:45 p.m. at a three-story duplex on the 6400 block of Elmwood Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia, fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said.

Two of those four survivors are in stable condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The others were not injured said Ayers.

Harris Murphy, who lives down the street, said he was visiting people in the home when the fire erupted.

Murphy, 35, recounted his tale after returning from a hospital wearing a hospital gown and bandages on his right hand and head. He said a woman at the home had tried to pour fuel into a kerosene heater but it got too hot and she tried to carry it outside.

"The whole thing exploded," he said.

Fire marshals were investigating the cause of the fire and interviewing Murphy while the victims' bodies were being removed.

Charles Russell, the brother of one of the victims, said he believed the man who purchased fuel for the heater bought the wrong kind.

"The guy who went to buy kerosene, instead of buying kerosene, he bought gasoline and put it in the heater...the kerosene heater. Then it exploded," Russell told NBC 10's Byron Scott Saturday morning.

It is not clear which man was responsible for buying the fuel or if that was indeed the cause of the fire.

Authorities from multiple agencies were also looking for possible code violations in the home, and Ayers found one almost immediately: The basement had only one exit.

The one victim who didn't die huddled with the others was found dead near that exit, said Ayers, who stressed the need for homes to have accessible exits and smoke alarms.

"We went through every inch of this place," he said. "We have not found a smoke alarm, not one."

Firefighters arrived at the scene within 3 minutes of receiving an emergency call, and it took them 30 minutes to bring the fire under control.

They said the people who live in the upper part of the building weren't home at the time; residents in the duplex's other unit suffered smoke damage and were being helped by the Red Cross.

Firefighters were trying to determine the relationships among the seven victims and the four people who escaped the basement fire and believed they might have been from two families.

Mayor Michael Nutter visited the scene to survey the damage and lend his support to fire officials.

The investigation is ongoing.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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