A toddler, an infant, and their bedridden great-grandmother perished in a fire Wednesday morning in West Philadelphia that was started by a 3-year-old's playing with matches, city fire officials said.
It was the fourth fatal fire in the last week. The deaths brought to 10 the total fire deaths since Saturday. There have been 19 fire fatalities so far this year - more than triple the six deaths this time last year, city Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said.
In Wednesday's fire, four others - two children and two women - escaped the blaze at 149 N. 57th St., three of them by climbing out of a second-story window onto a porch roof and jumping into the arms of a neighbor in what became a dramatic rescue as the city was in the grip of an icy storm.
Those who tried to help describe a heart-wrenching scene in which Yvonne Ryals, 26, and her mother, Loretta Green, begged neighbors to go in and save Ryals' children still in the house. Two men said they tried but were beaten back by swells of smoke and flames.
"A friend told me, 'Richard, the only thing you could have done was die,' " lamented Richard Griggs, 46, who heard the calls for help while shoveling snow on the block.
Fire officials said they found no smoke alarms in the rowhouse.
"It was a real sad thing, seeing a young mother like that losing her kids," said Ayers.
Yasirr Mickens, 3, Haliem Ryals, 6 months, and their great-grandmother Dolores Hampson all died in the fire that broke out about 9:15 a.m., officials said.
Surviving were Yvonne Ryals; Green; Yasirr's twin, Tahire Mickens, 3; and Ryals' daughter Kevonna, 7, a student at Daroff School.
"It's frustrating," Ayers said. "Fire service started [in Philadelphia]. Fire prevention started here. Then you see this heavy loss of life, senseless loss of life. A lot of these things are human behavior . . . where people make bad choices."
So far this year, he has seen fatal fires started as the result of improper use of space heaters, misuse of electricity, and burning of candles.
He cited one case in which a woman had twice caused fires by burning candles. The first was minor. The second proved deadly, he said.
In another case, two fires occurred about the same time in which elderly people were using space heaters to stay warm, he said.
At the fire scene Wednesday, neighbors recalled how several men helped Ryals and two children get off the roof.
Keith Dennis, 40, who works in housekeeping at a local nursing home, had just finished shoveling and was sipping coffee when he heard yelling. He went out and saw an orange glow and smoke coming from the house several doors down.
"Ladies were screaming, 'My babies! My babies!' " he recalled.
He and other neighbors saw Ryals and the two children on the roof. He said he caught the children and then urged Ryals to leap.
"It's just like a reaction. I did the best I could do. I just feel bad I couldn't save the other three lives," he said.
Kimberly Lighty, 25, who lives two doors away, also tried to go in, but saw it was impossible.
"You just knew they weren't going to get out of that house," she said.
Lighty, who talked with Ryals and Green after the fire, said most of the family had been sleeping when the fire started. Ryals works a night shift as a nursing assistant.
The family had lived in the house for many years, she said.
The fire started in the first-floor living room and spread quickly throughout the two-story brick structure, Ayers said.
Griggs said Green, who came out the front door, called out to him to notify 911 that the house was on fire. Then, he said, she grabbed his arm and asked him to save her mother, who couldn't move from her bed.
"I opened the door, and I seen that fire coming at me. I said, 'I can't get in there,' " he recalled.
Meanwhile, relatives of the young mother and her four children who perished in a West Philadelphia blaze on Sunday announced funeral plans.
Laura Pratt Robinson said the funeral service for her granddaughter Cornellry Robinson, 25, and her four young children would be Friday at 10:30 a.m. at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church, 63d and Callowhill Streets.
She said burial would be in Cathedral Cemetery on 48th Street in West Philadelphia.
The young hairdresser and her children died in a ramshackle, two-story rowhouse in the 5900 block of Walnut Street. Fire officials, who found several space heaters and a maze of electrical outlet strips, blamed the fire on an overburdened electrical system.
Robinson agreed. "I think it was an electrical problem," she said. "It was badly wired."