PHILADELPHIA – A fire engulfed a dilapidated house early Sunday, killing a mother and four children who were staying in the home despite relatives' warnings that it was unsafe, officials said.
Firefighters found the victims unresponsive on a bed inside the West Philadelphia house's boarded-up second floor, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said. Rescuers rushed to pass the victims out of windows and paramedics tried to revive them, he said.
"It's just a catastrophic thing," he said.
Ayers did not name the victims — a 25-year-old woman and her children, a girl and three boys ages 2, 3, 4 and 6.
The house was owned by the deceased mother of the woman and had been abandoned after her death. The young mother was living there despite safety warnings from family members, Ayers said.
"She was told not to go back there, but she didn't listen," Ayers said.
The house's electrical wiring was rigged dangerously and it was choked with debris, he said.
"It was just in a shambles, no place where human beings should be trying to live," he said.
The fire started at around 3:20 a.m., Ayers said. Firefighters discovered the victims after pulling the plywood off the building to try to gain access, he said.
Investigators were working to determine what caused the fire.
As firefighters continued to douse hot spots Sunday morning, a woman stopped and left two teddy bears adorned with Valentine hearts outside the charred house.