Southwest residents protest response to fatal fire

Police officers arrest a protester on Monday at the fire station a block away from a fire scene that claimed four young children early on Saturday morning in Philadelphia. — AP Photo/The Philadelphia Daily News, Steven M. Falk

Hundreds of people gathered near Ladder 4 Engine 40 firehouse near 65th and Woodland to protest what they said was a delayed response to a weekend row house fire that killed four young children.

The protest happened on Monday evening at a fire station near the scene of the fire, which destroyed eight homes.

Officer Christine O’Brien said police officers were called to the fire station for protection. She said no arrests have been made. The protesters claim firefighters didn’t respond as fast as they could to the blaze, which erupted Saturday shortly before 3 a.m. Flames quickly spread from row house to row house.

Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said despite some lag time because the initial report had been for a rubbish fire, the first unit was on the scene within three minutes.

Call for donations

At Christ International Baptist Church — near the site of the devastating Southwest Philadelphia rowhome fire on Saturday that took the lives of four children — donations are pouring in for victims of the fire-ravaged block.

An early-morning fire on Saturday engulfed 10 homes along the 6500 block of Gesner Street, killing three 4-year-olds — twin sisters Maria and Marialla Bowah, and Patrick Sanyeah — and 7-week-old Taj Jacque, as well as displacing about 32 residents.

Investigators are still trying to determine what started the blaze. However, witnesses said it may have begun on a couch on a porch.

Rev. Napoleon L. Divine, pastor of Christ International, which has been in the Liberian immigrant community since 2001, yesterday called the public’s response toward donations overwhelming. He said the church’s fellowship hall was overflowing with clothing donations, water and other supplies. A community meeting for fire victims was to be held on Monday evening to more specifically determine victims’ needs, Rev. Divine said.

Divine met on Sunday with Patrick and Taj’s mother, Elenor Jacque, 21, who was not home when the fire broke out. He said she cried on his shoulder.

“I prayed with her and let her know that she is not alone,” he said.

Christ International held a candlelight vigil for the victims of the fire, on Saturday evening.

“We just wanted to minister as best as we can,” Divine said.

The close-knit community around the church is made up of first- and second-generation West African immigrant families, many of them from Liberia, as well as African-American families. The children who died were said to have come from families of Liberian immigrants.

Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer and other firefighters on Monday were expected to go door-to-door along the block to install smoke detectors. The house where the children died had two new smoke detectors, distributed last summer by firefighters in a safety outreach effort.

Divine said even though the families of the children who died were not regular members of the congregation, he felt compelled to respond to the tragedy because the families are a part of the community.

It is working with the Red Cross, fire officials and the Liberian Association of Pennsylvania to coordinate donations and provide support. Donations are being accepted from noon to 6 p.m. daily at Christ International Baptist Church at 2210 S. 65th St.


Contact staff writer Ayana Jones at (215) 893-5747 or

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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