3 children, 1 adult found dead after fire in row house

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — An early morning fire in a north Philadelphia row home has claimed the lives of three children and one adult, authorities said.

Fire crews were called to the two-story residence in the Kensington neighborhood shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday and found heavy fire coming from both floors.

Three children were found dead and a man reported unaccounted for was also later found deceased, officials said. The names of the victims and other details about them weren't immediately released.

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"Our men and women of the fire department did a valiant effort to try to make saves here," Capt. Derek Bowmer told reporters at the scene. "Unfortunately we have a tragic ending this morning."

One person who jumped to safety was taken to a hospital. The fire was declared under control just before 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Firefighters had found no evidence of working smoke alarms in the building, officials said.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation and the city medical examiner's office will determine the cause and manner of death of the victims.

More than 60 fire department personnel responded, including firefighters, medics, chiefs and support personnel, officials said.

Five days into the new year, a fire in a duplex north of the city center near the Philadelphia Museum of Art killed a dozen people, including nine children — the deadliest blaze in the city in more than a century.

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Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel noted the earlier tragedy and said a total of 17 fire deaths had occurred since the beginning of the year before four deaths were added Sunday. In addition, he said, 38 people had been injured and more than 312 families had been displaced so far this year.

"Philadelphia has a fire problem, and we need your help," Thiel said, forcefully urging people to install smoke detectors, close bedroom doors before sleeping, take care while cooking, heating, smoking and using electricity and take other precautions.

Thiel said crews arrived within two minutes but were unable to save the victims due to "chemistry and physics."

"Fires are burning hotter and faster than ever before," he said, saying crews used to have perhaps 10 minutes before the phenomenon of flashover — simultaneous ignition of the contents of a space producing 800- to 1,000-degree temperatures — but modern furnishings and fixtures now allow flashovers in as little as a minute, he said.

"We are doing everything we can," Thiel said. "We are dedicated, we are motivated — and right now we are frustrated. And we are mourning — we are mourning with this community, with these families."