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Fire victims watching Bourne Ultimatum

Inquirer staff writer Carolyn Davis reports:

Harris Murphy, 35, a Liberian immigrant who was burned in the blaze that killed seven people late Friday in Southwest Philadelphia, said this morning in an interview that he was in the basement of the home on the 6400 block of Elmwood Ave. with the victims watching the Bourne Ultimatum, a spy thriller, when the fire broke out.

Those who perished, he said, included his brother, Henry Gbokoloi, 54, and four children. The fire engulfed the property when a woman--who was renovating the basement--tried to pour fuel into a small heater and sparked an explosion, Murphy said. The woman, also a Liberian immigrant, was believed to be the mother of two of the children who died.

Murphy said the fuel might have been kerosene, or possibly gasoline.

Murphy, his forehead and right arm still bandaged, said the four children killed, including a toddler, were asleep on the floor when the heater erupted. Murphy said he and the woman escaped from the basement, but the burning heater blocked the only way out. The staircase leading to the rest of the house had been taken down as part of the renovation.

Murphy said he alerted the Fire Department that his brother had moved the children to a shower, where he thought they would be safe for five or ten minutes.

"I was the last to get out," said Murphy.

Patrick Kennedy, 50, a Liberian immigrant from Upper Darby, said he was a close friend of the woman who was renovating the basement at 6418 Elmwood Ave. He said he usually comes and visits her, but had stayed home on Friday, because it was Christmas time.

Patrick Awo, another Liberian immigrant from Lansdowne, said the Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood where the fire occurred was a Liberian enclave. He said he and other friends were trying to determine the woman's condition.

Read more breaking news in our From The Source blog.