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Philadelphia row house in which 4 children died had smoke alarms, fire official says

| Sunday, July 6, 2014, 6:45 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — Smoke detectors were installed last year inside a row house where four young children died in a fast-moving blaze that engulfed at least 10 residences, fire officials said.

Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said the department had installed two smoke alarms in the house where the blaze erupted early Saturday, killing three 4-year-olds and a baby. It raced from row house to row house, even though the first fire engine was based only two blocks away and was on the scene about three minutes after the call came in, Sawyer said.

Investigators are trying to determine what caused the fire. One witness said he noticed a couch on a porch on fire and saw the flames spread to other residences.

Twin sisters Maria and Marialla Bowah were among the dead. Their father, Pennoh Davis, said they loved to attend Sunday school.

“My little girls, they loved to play, loved to read, loved to draw and loved to sing,” Davis said.

The girls' mother, Dewen Bowah, told police she was home with seven children and managed to get her three other daughters out before jumping from a second-floor window. But she couldn't save the twins, 1-month-old Taj Jaque and 4-year-old Patrick Sanyeah. The boys' mother wasn't in the house at the time.

“We lost four precious lives,” Mayor Michael Nutter said. “I can only pray that their pain was not long and they did not truly feel and experience the intensity of this fire and flames.”

Virginia Townes, who lives across the narrow street, said that she looked out the window and felt the heat, which melted the taillights of parked cars.

“I heard nothing but terrifying screams from the kids,” Townes said.

Bowah and her three surviving daughters were taken to a hospital, but the extent of their injuries was not known.

Jeff Boone said 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.”

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