Seven people were killed Friday in a fire at an unlicensed, trash-filled boarding house where many of the residents were elderly and disabled.
The fire, reported about 6:40 a.m., was quickly brought under control, but five men and two women died from smoke inhalation, and an 11-year-old girl was critically injured, officials said.
The North Philadelphia building was in disarray and full of trash bags, Fire Commissioner Harold B. Hairston said. It had several smoke detectors and an alarm system, but they didn't appear to work.
The building owner did not have a city license to operate as a boarding house, Hairston said. "In 1987 they were cited for being an illegal boarding home," he said.
The owner of the house applied in 1990 for a state license designating it as a personal care home but was turned down because the structure did not meet local licensing and inspection requirements, said Jay Pagni, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Welfare.
A personal care home provides help to residents with activities like dressing or eating but does not offer skilled nursing care. Officials did not immediately disclose the identity of the owner.
"This is a three-story property with a tremendous amount of rooms," Hairston said, noting that there were seven rooms on the first floor, 11 on the second and 10 on the third.
Boarder Mark Giles said he was in bed listening to the radio when he noticed smoke coming under his door and heard a woman screaming and the sound of an explosion. He climbed out his third-floor window and got down the fire escape.
"I looked into the alley and the alley was all foggy with smoke and the kitchen was all red," said Giles, 40, who had lived in the house about four months.
"My heart hurts because everyone else is dead," Giles said. Neighbor Dorothy Singletary said the Indiana Avenue building was known in the neighborhood as the "Indiana House" and was home to the mentally and physically disabled. Other neighbors described it as a boarding house.
"We're very saddened by it because they are like family," Singletary said. "We see them every day and talk to them. The whole neighborhood is saddened."
Kadello Mosley, who lives a few doors down, said a woman ran up and down the street banging on doors in a desperate plea for help. She said the woman's hair had been singed by the fire.
"Everybody else burned up. They were mentally challenged. They couldn't get out," Mosley said. Some survivors and relatives gathered in Mosley's home, screaming and wailing.
An 11-year-old girl was in critical condition at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, a hospital spokeswoman said. She was being treated for severe burns on her arms, face, eyes and lungs, and was placed in a special chamber that forces carbon monoxide out of the body, Hairston said.
"Her prognosis is poor," he said. The cause of the one-alarm blaze was not immedately known. Twelve people apparently lived in the home, Hairston said.
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