The toll of seven dead in the Southwest Philadelphia house fire ranks among the major residential fires in the city's history. But it falls short of the worst conflagration ever in Philadelphia.
Eleven died in the May 13, 1985, inferno that destroyed 61 houses in the 6200 block of Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia when a police helicopter dropped explosives on the roof of a house where members of the radical group MOVE were holed up.
The largest single fire in the city's history started on July 9, 1850, in Old City. Over several days, the fire consumed 337 buildings between the Delaware River and Second Street and Vine and Callowhill Streets. The death toll by fire and drowning reached 44.
The Philadelphia Fire Department suffered its worst day on Dec. 29, 1910, when 13 firefighters and one police officer died battling a blaze at a Northern Liberties purse factory.
Most of the firefighters perished at the Friedlander Leather Remnants Co., 1116-1120 N. Bodine St., when they attempted to rescue other trapped firefighters, according to Jack Wright, a volunteer historian at the Fireman's Hall Museum in Philadelphia. "A wall collapsed, burying the rescuers," Wright said yesterday.
Other notable losses of life from fires in Philadelphia's history:
June 19, 1867: Fox's American Theater, in the 800 block of Walnut Street, caught fire during a performance of the
. Thirteen people, most of them firemen, died when the front wall of the two-year-old theater collapsed. The theater was destroyed.
Oct. 28, 1954: A 4,000-gallon tank exploded at the Charles W. Berg Laboratories, 1827 N. 5th St. in North Philadelphia, killing nine firefighters.
Jan. 14, 1967: A rowhouse fire at 2533 Parrish St. in Fairmount killed John and Theresa Drum and seven of their 12 children. Fire officials blamed careless smoking.
Aug. 17, 1975: An 11-alarm fire at the Gulf Oil Refinery in Southwest Philadelphia killed eight firefighters. The deaths were caused by an explosion that occurred eight hours after an initial fire had been declared under control.
Feb. 8, 1984: In the worst single-dwelling fire in Philadelphia, 10 people died at 2314 Coral St. in Kensington from a fire caused by careless smoking. The dead included six children from two families.
May 8, 1986: Nine people were killed when a fire raced through the Latonia Apartments in the 9700 block of Bustleton Avenue in the Northeast. A 20-year-old resident of the complex, Frank Jordan, was convicted of second-degree murder for the arson and is now serving a life sentence.
Oct. 17, 1989: A child started a closet fire in the 3200 block of Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia, setting off a blaze that blocked the staircase, killing five children and two adults who were trapped in the upper floors of the three-story rowhouse.
According to the Philadelphia Fire Marshal's Office, the seven dead from Friday night's tragedy in Southwest Philadelphia increased the number of fire deaths to 37 for the year, compared with 47 by the same date in 2007.
Fire fatalities have been generally trending downward in recent decades, according to the marshal's office. Because one bad fire can throw off the annual average, fire officials prefer to look at a 10-year moving average of annual fire deaths. That number has declined about 40 percent since 1992, according to the marshal's office.