By Pat Loeb and Matt Rivers
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Four children have died in a fast-moving, three-alarm fire overnight in Southwest Philadelphia.READ MORE: Philadelphia Students Finding Comfort In Rec Centers Again Amid Gun Violence Epidemic
Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer says firefighters were called to the 6500 block of Gesner Street at 2:45 a.m. Saturday and found the blaze had already spread.
“Heavy fire, four dwellings,” he says. “The fire extended through the porch roofs. We had a challenging effort in trying to contain the fire so we didn’t lose any more homes.”
A fifth house was also destroyed and three more were damaged before the fire was placed under control at about 4 a.m. That’s when firefighters were able to search the homes and found the bodies of a one-month-old boy, a four-year-old boy and four-year-old twin girls.
“This is a tragic, tragic day for the city of Philadelphia,” Sawyer says.
Four-year-old twin sisters Maria and Marialla Bowah, and brothers four-year-old Patrick Sanyeah, and Taj Jacque, just six-weeks-old, all died inside one home, unable to escape the flames.
The grandmother of the two boys was overcome with grief.
“How am I feeling? I just want to die, I just want to die,” Comfort Dualy Jacque says.
Officials are not sure what started the fire, but say it likely started on the front porch of the home the children were inside. It quickly engulfed seven other homes on the block, displacing more than 40 people, eventually requiring more than 100 firefighters on a three-alarm call to get the fire under control.
“The members of that station right now are heartbroken. They’re very heartbroken because we lost four children in this community,” Sawyer says.
The twin sisters lived in the home with their mother. She was babysitting the two young boys. There were other children in the home she did manage to get out, but she couldn’t save them all.
“Their mom, she tried to rescue all the kids, but she can’t because there was a lot of them and the fire was everywhere,” a neighbor said.
This afternoon, Mayor Michael Nutter joined the Fire Commissioner and family members, expressing their grief.READ MORE: 'I Thought I Was Done': Residents Of Trevose Mobile Home Park Pick Up The Pieces After EF-3 Tornado
“We lost four precious lives, four little innocent lives,” Mayor Nutter says. “Hearing about this incredible tragedy is one thing. Seeing the scene, and meeting the people, is quite different. The entire city mourns this incredible tragedy and what has happened here.”
Sawyer says the house where the children died was outfitted by the fire department with lifesaving equipment.
“We had visited this house just last year, and installed two smoke alarms, two brand-new smoke alarms,” he says.
It’s not known if the residents had an evacuation plan.
Four others were injured and 42 people were displaced by the blaze.
The American Red Cross says nine families (32 people) have been provided financial assistance and 18 people are staying at Red Cross House.
Affected residents can call the Red Cross at 215-299-4889 for help.
The Red Cross says a community support center at Connell Park at 65th and Elmwood are taking collections for the affected families.
To donate clothing, shoes or non-perishable food items contact:
- Christ International Baptist Church, 2210 South 65th Street, Philadelphia, PA 215-729-0214
- Liberian Association of Pennsylvania, Inc., 1155 South 54th Street, Philadelphia, PA 215-651-9322
- Saving Grace Orphanage, 4918 Baltimore Ave, Philadelphia PA 215-779-5726
- First Baptist Church of Paschall, 7100 Woodland Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 215-724-3294
The Fire Commissioner says the Fire Marshal is investigating how and where the fire started.
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