Reprinted with Permission from Firehouse.com
By JOANN LOVIGLIOAssociated Press Writer
The mother of three children killed in a fast-moving house fire held up their morgue photographs at a packed church and pleaded with the hundreds in attendance to outfit their homes with smoke detectors to prevent such tragedies.
"This is Zyhire, he was 1 year old," Michelle Dosso said Sunday as wails erupted from the pews of Christ International Baptist Church, just blocks from the home where four adults and three children died in the Friday night blaze.
"This is Ramere, he was 8. ... This is my baby girl, Mariam. She would have been 7 on the 27th," Dosso said from the church altar as she held the little girl's photo aloft. "I promised her a party and ... she's going to get it."
"Don't let them die in vain," she said, urging congregants to get smoke detectors. "Get it done."
The blaze was brought under control in around a half hour but heavy smoke claimed the lives of the seven victims. Six were found huddled together at one end of the room; a seventh was found near the basement's only exit to the outside. Investigators said the interior basement stairs had been removed.
There were no smoke alarms in the house, but alarms probably wouldn't have prevented the tragedy - survivor Harris Murphy, 54, said it started when a kerosene heater exploded as it was being refilled with fuel.
With his hands wrapped in bandages, Murphy told the church congregation that he urged his friend Henry Gbokoloi to have everyone run through the flames but his friend replied, "The firefighters will come and get us." The victims succumbed to smoke before firefighters could reach them.
In addition to Ramere, Mariam, and Zyhire, the other victims were Gbokoloi, 54, and siblings Vivian Teah, 26; Elliott Teah, 23, and Jennifer Teah, 17.
At least 10 members of the extended family were at home watching a movie when the fire broke out in the three-story brick duplex at around 10:45 p.m. Friday in a part of Southwest Philadelphia that is home to many of the city's 15,000 Liberian immigrants.
Showih Kamara, president of the Liberian Association of Pennsylvania, said the group was organizing committees to educate the community about home safety and provide assistance or information.
He also said that an account was being set up at Citizens Bank where donations could be made to help the families. Such solidarity "is the usual Liberian spirit," he told the crowd.
The father of the Teah children told the congregation that he was moved by the outpouring of concern from friends and strangers in the Liberian community and said that "only God knows why" such a tragedy could happen.
"I have only one son left now," said Alfred Teah, who brought his family from battle-torn Liberia to the U.S. in the 1990s. "We try to stand strong. ... This is not an end. This is just the beginning."