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Published: Saturday, 12/27/2008

Philadelphia house fire kills 3 children, 4 adults; officials blame kerosene heater

ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHILADELPHIA Dozens of Liberian immigrants mourned Saturday at a house where seven members of their community died in a fire that a survivor said started when a kerosene heater spilled fuel and exploded as it was being moved outdoors.

Authorities have not released the names of all the victims, but fire survivor Harris Murphy said those trapped in the basement blaze were part of the large Liberian enclave in southwest Philadelphia.

The blaze broke out around 10:45 p.m. Friday in a three-story brick duplex and killed three adults and four children, including a 1-year-old boy, fire department spokesman Chief Daniel Williams said.

Fire officials said six victims were found huddled together in the front of the basement, one of them cradling the baby. The seventh was found near the basement door.

The boy was later pronounced dead at Children s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The medical examiner said three of the children died of smoke inhalation and one adult died of smoke inhalation and burns. Four victims were identified as Henry W. Gbokoloi, 54, of Yeadon; 8-year-old Ramere Markese Wright-Dosso; 6-year-old Mariam Iyanya Dosso, and 1-year-old Zyhire Xzavier Wright-Teah. All lived in the home.

Four people survived the fire, including Mr. Murphy, 35, who lives down the street but was watching a movie with others at the home when the flames erupted.

Fire marshals have not yet released the cause of the blaze, but Mr. Murphy said it started after a woman added fuel to a kerosene heater and, when it became too hot, tried to move it outside through the basement s only door.

Some of the flaming liquid spilled out and set the carpet on fire, Mr. Murphy said.

The heater then exploded, he said.

Mr. Murphy said he ran into a basement bathroom with another man and some children, got in the tub and turned on the shower to try to wait out the flames until firefighters arrived. After a few moments, he said, he decided to make a break for it because the smoke was thickening.

A preliminary investigation showed the basement had one exit to the exterior and that the interior basement stairs had been removed, the fire department said in a statement. The fire commissioner said no smoke detectors were in the house.

Some Liberians who came to the house Saturday morning did not know who died but, because of the home s location, feared they would know one or more of the victims. The neighborhood is home to many of the city s 15,000 Liberian immigrants.

Anthony Kesselly, president of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas, lives nearby and said he knew one victim very well. He came to the house when he heard the news Saturday morning and was not surprised to see the growing crowd.

We are very close-knit people, Mr. Kesselly said.



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