City building inspectors searched through the charred wreckage on 65th and Gesner Street a day after a devastating fire took away four young lives and changed a Southwest Philly community forever.
One-month-old Taj Jacque and his older brother, Patrick Sanyeah, along with twin sisters Maria and Marialla Bowah perished in the massive blaze, which engulfed the 6500 block of Gesner Street early Saturday.
The family of the two boys are questioning the fire department's response time. Patrick Sanyeah, the father of 4-year-old Patrick Sanyeah, believes more could have been done to save the children.
"I never got to say goodbye. They could've saved his life," said Sanyeah. "I need some answers."
After officials with the Department of Licenses & Inspections left, a building restoration crew arrived on the block to make their own observations on Sunday. Meanwhile, many of the residents stayed inside their homes as their street remained blocked off by police barricades. Others attended Christ International Baptist Church on the corner of 65th and Gesner, trying to make sense of the tragedy and gain some sort of peace.
Both Christ International and the community support center at Connell Park at 65th and Elmwood are taking donated items.
Later during the day, around 5 p.m., local ministers plan to walk through the neighborhood to help the residents. They will also host a rally and prayer service. On Monday, Red Cross officials, the Philadelphia Fire Department and other groups will hand out fire safety materials to residents on the block.
Sunday's eerie calm was a stark contrast to the scene more than 24 hours earlier. Witnesses tell NBC10 they heard firecrackers go off around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday. They then noticed a yellow glow that quickly turned into a full-fledged fire, engulfing a couch on the porch of 6516 Gesner St.
One witness, Jeff Boone, says he called 911 and ran screaming down the street to wake up his neighbors. He was making his way to the firehouse just around the corner when he heard cries for help from young children trapped inside 6518 Gesner St.
"I heard them in there screaming," Boone said. "The flames were so high and intense that I couldn't go over there."
Inside the home was 41-year-old Dewen "Marie" Bowah, who was watching her twin girls, Maria and Marialla, their siblings Naomi Bowah, Julie Bowah and Julisa Bowah, and babysitting Taj and Patrick. As fire spread through the house, Dewen helped Naomi, Julie and Julisa escape by leaping through a second-floor window. She was unable to reach the remaining four children however.
"She tried to take the kids," Dewen's niece, Nudde Saya said. "But the fire was everywhere, so she threw the oldest kids out the window and she jumped out the window."
One by one, the wooden porches on the two-story rowhomes went up in flames. Cars parked across the street melted from the heat and windows became disfigured.
Located about a block away, Ladder 4 Engine 40 arrived at the scene about three minutes after the call went out at 2:45 a.m., according to Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer.
"It was a tough fire fight. Heavy heat and smoke conditions," said Sawyer, who added that the call initially came in as a rubbish fire.
"They tried to contain the fire to the four homes," he continued. "But at some point, the fire extended to eight homes."
Neighbors said the street turned chaotic as they along with responding police and firefighters tried to determine whether people were inside the homes. By the time the flames were brought under control, eight homes were destroyed and the lives of four children were lost.
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"We lost four precious lives, four little, innocent children in a horrific tragedy on this street," Mayor Michael Nutter said during a press conference on Saturday. "I feel a great pain."
Four others, including Dewen, and the mother of Taj and Patrick, 23-year-old Eleanor Jacque, were taken to the hospital. Dewen is in critical condition at Crozier Chester Medical Center.
The conditions of Jacque and the other two victims who were hospitalized is unknown.
The deadly blaze displaced 42 others, according to the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
While fire officials are investigating claims from witnesses that the fire was sparked by a firecracker, the official cause has not yet been determined.
Financial assistance for items like food,clothing, shoes and medications was requested by 32 of those displaced. Eighteen are staying at the Red Cross House, a short-term recovery center in Philadelphia's University City neighborhood.
Victims of the fire who have not yet come forward to contact the Red Cross at 215-299-4889. Anyone who wants to donate should call 1-800-Red Cross or visit the Red Cross website.