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House Fire Kills Seven in Philadelphia

October 17, 1989

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Fire and heavy smoke engulfed a house Tuesday, driving back neighbors, firefighters and police officers who tried to save the five young children and two adults who died in the blaze.

June Scott, who escaped unharmed with a 5-year-old grandchild, lost her father, son and five grandchildren.

″It’s a very great, great, great tragedy,″ Mrs. Scott said. ″You don’t know how I feel about losing my father and my baby boy and five little babies that couldn’t even help themselves.″

Firefighters pulled three children from the burning three-story row house, but they were dead when taken to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, hospital spokeswoman Brenda Hicks said.

Fire Commissioner Roger Ulshafer said the fire appeared to be accidental but the cause was not immediately known.

Ulshafer said the fire must have been burning for some time before it was reported at 7:34 a.m., because the first floor was fully aflame when firefighters arrived from a firehouse two blocks away.

″If you look at the faces of the firemen around here, they’re stunned that in a small house like this, you lose seven people,″ he said.

He said the house apparently had no smoke alarms, which are not required in older, private homes. Three of the dead were found near a window, he said.

″There was fire coming out of the windows, and the babies just screaming and howling, people were all screaming and howling,″ said Cynthia Morrison, who lives in the working-class neighborhood on the city’s west side.

Ian Baldwin, who lives across the street, said his mother called in an alarm after he saw Mrs. Scott running.

″I saw her running across the street screaming, ’My house is on fire 3/8 My house is on fire 3/8‴ he said. ″I told my mom to call the fire department.″

Baldwin said he and a few other neighbors tried to enter the burning house from the rear. ″There was too much smoke,″ he said.

Several more attempts were made by firefighters and three undercover police officers to enter the house but they were driven back by the heavy smoke and flames, said John Devlin, a battalion fire chief.

The victims were identified as Mrs. Scott’s father, Clyde Staples, 66; her son, Emerson Lee, 19; and her grandchildren: Joseph Lee, 7; 3-year-old twins Jamal and Jeffrey Lee; Andrell McCoy, 5, and Shanta McCoy, 3.

Emerson Lee was the uncle of the five children. The grandchild who survived was Andrell McCoy’s twin.

Later in the day, dozens of neighbors gathered around the gray stucco home as firefighters tossed blackened mattresses, chairs, rubble and papers through shattered windows.

First-floor shutters had partially melted and were dangling away from the building. Plumes of soot stretched up all sides of the house and onto the adjoining house, which was otherwise undamaged.

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