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Fire survivors in emergency housing as community mourns loss of children

Tragically, even though the fire broke out across the street from a fire station, the flames spread quickly to the eight homes.

Lillian Rodriguez, in green, stands in front of her burnt out home after a fire on the 6500 block of Gessner St. in Southwest Philadelphia that killed four children and made 42 people homeless. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro Lillian Rodriguez, in green, stands in front of her burnt out home after a fire on the 6500 block of Gesner St. in Southwest Philadelphia that killed four children and made 42 people homeless. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro

Many residents in the vicinity of the Gesner Street fire today were in a state of shock and confusion over the deaths of four children in a fire that broke out hours after the Fourth of July had ended.

"It's tragic. It's the worst thing that could ever happen," said Brian Floyd, who was staying with a friend near Gesner Street. "It makes you realize how valuable every moment is."

Eight rowhomes on Gesner and 65th streets were engulfed in flame over the weekend after a fire broke out around just before 3 a.m. on Saturday, July 5. Three 4-year-olds and one month-old infant were found dead inside the second floor of one of the homes.

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Roselyn Gray helps organize donated clothes at the Christ International Baptist Church after a fire on the 6500 block of Gesner St. in Southwest Philadelphia that killed four children and made 42 people homeless. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro Roselyn Gray helps organize donated clothes at the Christ International Baptist Church after a fire on the 6500 block of Gesner St. in Southwest Philadelphia that killed four children and made 42 people homeless. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro

Tragically, even though the fire broke out across the street from a fire station, the flames spread quickly to the eight homes.

While Ladder 4 company firefighters stationed across the street responded to the fire on the 6500 block of Gesner at 2:50 a.m., the Engine 40 company, which is at the same station, was responding to an automobile fire when the Gesner street call went out, according to local resident Wayne Williams and confirmed by Jim Griffith at the Philadelphia Police Department communications center.

The first engine company to arrive at the fire was Engine 68, Griffith said, which is stationed on 52nd Street near Baltimore Avenue, nearly two miles away from the fire. The time Engine 68 arrived at the scene was not available.

Ladder companies rig ladders around buildings and set up hoses to position firefighters to work on a fire, but only engine companies have a fire truck with the pump needed to spray water on a fire.

The cause of the fire has not officially been determined, but residents believe fireworks started the blaze.

"They have to be banned. It's dangerous," said neighbor William Wade.

Wade said the woman whose month-old baby and 4-year-old died in the fire was his tenant, and that she went to Gesner Street for a barebcue.

Since the fire, he has not seen her.

"They were her only children," he said.

A Gesner Street resident is reunited with her pet dog Chloe and Cat Laila on Sunday afternoon. She returned to the scene of the fire to search for the pets which she feared lost, she said. Credit: Sam Newhouse/Metro A Gesner Street resident whose hom was affected by Saturday's fire reunites with her pet dog Chloe and Cat Laila on Sunday afternoon. She returned to the scene of the fire to search for the pets which she feared lost, she said. Credit: Sam Newhouse/Metro

One displaced resident, seen above, returned to her home seeking her pets Sunday afternoon, and later said she found them both hiding behind the house.

Meanwhile, the basement of International Church of Christ around the corner was steadily filling with donations all day Sunday for the estimated 42 residents who lost their homes in the fire.

Two women who brought several bags of goods said they drove in from Clifton Heights and Collingswood, New Jersey, respectively, and had both grown up just blocks from where the fire took place.

"This outpouring of love and support tells the families that you don't have to carry your burden alone, we are all with you," said ICC's Pastor Napoleon Divine.

Red Cross workers said everyone requiring emergency housing and services was supplied by Sunday afternoon.

"As of right now, we've got everyone's needs covered," said Danelle Stoppel, of the Red Cross, around 4 p.m.

City officials are expected to visit Gesner Street Monday afternoon to distribute and install smoke detectors.

International Church of Christ at 2210 S 65th St. will open to receive more donations at noon on Monday, July 7.

 
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