Families of the 12 people killed in a Philadelphia row house fire that began in a Christmas tree two years ago sued a pair of city agencies Friday, claiming unsafe conditions on the property violated the victims’ civil rights.
The federal lawsuit against the Philadelphia Housing Authority and the city’s Department of Human Services, and various officials of the agencies, alleges that the housing authority knew the four-bedroom apartment it owns in a brick duplex was overcrowded and unsafe. Specifically, they allege that it lacked a fire escape, smoke detectors and other fire safety features.
Mayor Cherelle Parker’s spokesperson, Joe Grace, declined comment because the matter is in active litigation. Messages seeking comment were left Friday with spokespeople with the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
During two visits to the home in December 2021, a month before the fire, a Human Services social worker noticed the smoke detectors were inoperable, the lawsuit says, but did not return with working detectors as she promised.
Housing authority records show their staff made three visits in December 2021, but the lawsuit says records falsely showed “quality checks were performed on the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and they were operable.”
Three women and nine of their children — nearly all of the apartment’s 14 residents — were killed in what was called the city’s deadliest fire in more than a century. Officials reported that the early morning fire in Unit B of 869 N. Third St. started at a Christmas tree.