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4 children die in Pa. row house blaze

Flames displace 42 residents

A woman wept in front of firefighters and burned row houses in Philadelphia. At least eight row houses were destroyed.

Michael Perez/Associated Press

A woman wept in front of firefighters and burned row houses in Philadelphia. At least eight row houses were destroyed.

PHILADELPHIA — A fire raced through a row of two-story homes in southwest Philadelphia early Saturday, killing three 4-year-olds and a baby and spreading to least other 10 houses, fire officials said.

Officials said the fire may have started in a couch on a porch, but the cause remains under investigation.

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The blaze began shortly before 3 a.m. and was brought under control in about an hour, fire officials said. At least eight row homes were ruined, leaving behind only charred frames.

The Red Cross said the fire displaced 42 people.

The Fire Department identified the victims as 4-year-old twin girls, a 4-year-old boy, and a month-old boy.

The relationship of the twins and the two boys was unclear. Four other people were injured.

Jeff Boone told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he saw a couch on fire on the porch of a house about five doors down from his residence and heard children screaming.

The flames spread across porches so fast, he said, that ‘‘it looked like someone had a flamethrower and just shot it all across.’’

Boone said he called 911 and bolted out of his house to try to save his neighbors.

‘‘I was running, screaming, telling everybody, ‘Get up! Yo, get, yo! Go!’ ’’ he said, adding that there was little more that he could do.

Milton Musa told the newspaper his roommate woke him up and said their home was on fire.

Once outside, Musa said, he saw two children hanging from a neighbor’s window.

‘‘I could see they weren’t strong, and I was afraid they’d fall to the cement,’’ Musa said. ‘‘So I went underneath them, let them fall on my back, and carried them away.’’

He wiped away tears as he recalled the intense moments as the blaze swept through the neighborhood.

‘‘Everyone was running for their lives,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve lost everything. My paperwork, my documents, my house. Everything.’’

By 8:30 a.m., an American Red Cross shelter at an area high school had checked in about 28 people who were affected by the fire, Red Cross officials said.

Photos from the scene of the fire, in the 6500 block of Gesner Street, showed several two-story brick buildings with substantial damage.

The frames of the houses were burned, the windows were broken, and debris littered the porches and yards.

Fire officials will check whether the homes had fire alarms, and plan to visit other homes in the neighborhoods to make sure that they are equipped with alarms, Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said.

‘‘This is a tragic, tragic day for the city of Philadelphia. Tragic,’’ Sawyer said. ‘‘We lost four children today.’’

Sawyer added that guarding against fires is the responsibility of the entire community.

“I want everybody to understand that fire is everyone’s fight, not just the Fire Department’s,’’ he said.

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