Blaze that killed 12 including 8 kids started when boy set Christmas tree alight

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Twelve people, including eight children, were killed when a blaze that was started when a five-year-old boy set a Christmas tree on fire tore through a US house, officials said.

The story shocked the country when it broke on Wednesday morning, but officials were still working to determine the source of the fire in Philadelphia.

Now, Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said in a press conference on Tuesday that investigators have “99 to 100 per cent confidence” that a Christmas tree on the second floor of the row home in Fairmount was the source of the blaze, the Independent reports.

He said investigators believe “with near certainty” that the tree was set alight with a lighter, which was discovered close by.

The fire then spread from the second floor to the rest of the home. The five-year-old boy, who survived, was the only person on the second floor when the fire began, said Commissioner Thiel.

“We believe with certainty – so 99 to 100 per cent confidence – that the first item ignited in this blaze was a Christmas tree,” said Commissioner Thiel.

“A Christmas tree on January 5th. We believe with near certainty, based on the evidence, that the ignition source for that tree was a lighter that was located nearby.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that they had seen police records which stated that the boy told first responders that he had accidentally set a Christmas tree alight while playing with a lighter.

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The fire commissioner said that a statement from a child was not enough evidence to class that as the official cause.

“We are left with the words of that 5-year-old child, that traumatized five-year-old child, to help us understand how the lighter and the tree came together with tragic consequences,” he said.

“The only survivor of this was a 5-year-old child and the five-year-old child as you’ve seen reported certainly said things.

“The way the investigation proceeded, was an attempt to disprove the hypothesis that the way the lighter contacted the tree was in the hands of the five-year-old child.

“We could not find anything to disprove that hypothesis. That does not prove it. Because we’re talking about a five-year-old child.”

However, the commissioner said the evidence does show the blaze was caused by “some type of human intervention”.

Firefighters responded to a call at around about 6:30am, local time, to a Philadelphia Housing Authority property in the Fairmont area, and found flames coming from the second floor.

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They managed to get the blaze under control within an hour.

The four smoke alarms in the building were reportedly not working at the time of the fire, and Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy told reporters that only two potential fire exits could be identified.

He said that the fast-moving “heavy fire” quickly engulfed the kitchen area of a second-floor apartment and ran up an open stairwell to the third floor.

  • Christmas
  • Fire

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