Civil rights lawsuit filed over 2022 Fairmount fire that killed 9 children and 3 adults

The federal lawsuit is against the Philadelphia Housing Authority and the city's Department of Human Services, as well as various officials of the agencies.

Philadelphia firefighters work at the scene of a deadly fire

Philadelphia firefighters work at the scene of a deadly fire, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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.

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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.

The housing authority, the lawsuit said, “knew of the grave risks associated with overcrowding, fire hazards and the lack of operable smoke detectors, and the serious dangers that the conditions posed” to the residents who died in the fire.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages as well as an order that all of city’s public housing units be inspected and tested to ensure there are working smoke detectors.

A separate, negligence lawsuit regarding the fire was filed in March in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. A spokesperson for the Kline and Specter law firm said Friday that case remains pending and is currently in the discovery phase.

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