Sisters Rosalee McDonald, 33; Virginia Thomas, 30, and Quinsha White, 18, were killed. Six of McDonald’s children and three of Thomas’ children also died in the fire, according to their family. The ages of their children were not given.
Authorities are also trying to determine if a lit Christmas tree in the home might have touched off the blaze.
“They were both good people, good mothers and were very family-oriented,” Frank McDonald told CNN. “Rosalee was one of the best people you could ever meet. She was very supportive — they both were. They came down to help me with my business when I opened it.”
“I don’t know how they were able to ascertain that,” said Kelvin A. Jeremiah, PHA president and CEO. “The authorized number of residents would be the folks who are indicated on our leases, and in both of those units the combined total should be 20 — six and 14.”
In 2011, three people moved into Unit A and six in Unit B. In the four-bedroom unit B, the family grew exponentially between 2011 and 2021, with at least eight children added to the household, Jeremiah said.
Jeremiah described the family in Unit B as a multi-generational family consisting of a grandmother, her three daughters and their children. The family wanted to stay together and the PHA does not have occupancy limits.
“Our policies and procedures do not evict people because they have children,” Jeremiah said. “We don’t remove them because their families are growing.”
The deadly fire along with persistent questions about why there were so many people living in each unit has put the spotlight on deep issues plaguing the US including the state of affordable housing, class relations and cultural misunderstandings, Jeremiah said.
When a reporter asked Jeremiah why PHA didn’t move some of the residents in either apartment into another unit, the CEO replied that there was no indication the family wanted to do that.
“It’s a question, perhaps, that resonates, particularly, with Black and Brown communities,” Jeremiah said, adding that he himself grew up in a similar unit with 16 people.
Federal agencies are helping with the investigation
Firefighters responded to flames around 6:40 a.m. Wednesday and found “heavy fire” in a kitchen area at the front of the second floor, officials said. There was “nothing slowing that fire from moving,” said Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy.
Murphy told reporters during a news conference Thursday that the Philadelphia Police Department and the ATF Philadelphia branch were assisting with the investigation.
Neither PHA nor fire officials would comment on the suspected cause of the fire. Investigators are trying to determine if a child under the age of…