Official: Fire building reported empty; 3 later found dead

Officials say the bodies of three family members were found days after the North Philadelphia fire that took their lives. Firefighters say they thought everyone made it out. Crews found out days later from family that people were still missing.

"We are absolutely heartbroken at this outcome." An emotional Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel painstakingly tried to explain Tuesday night how firefighters did everything they could to save lives in a fatal fire on North 21st Street last week, but didn't find three victims on the third floor until two days later.

"They were unable to access the third floor due to the heavy fire and smoke conditions," Commissioner Thiel said.

"They were not given a chance to fight. They were just left there to die," Evron Martin, a friend of the victims' family, said.

A friend of the victims' family spoke to FOX 29 by phone saying family members called the department for two days saying 3-year-old Hasshim Johnson, his 25-year-old mother Alita and his 64-year-old grandfather Horace McQellen were unaccounted for.

"Numerous calls made that their loved ones were still missing even the night of the fire," Martin said.

"We had information several times on the scene that all the occupants had been removed," Commissioner Thiel said.

The commissioner and city officials laid out a timeline on the fire response and other facts about the boarding home.They say it was zoned as a single family dwelling and didn't appear to have working smoke detectors or a rental license.

"In essence it was in violation of the zoning code," L&I Commissioner David Perri told reporters at a Tuesday evening press conference.

Commissioner Thiel said the fire started on the second floor and is still under investigation. He said firefighters halted their primary search of the building when a stairwell collapsed during the intense blaze.

"The stairs from the second to the third floor collapsed. A couple firefighters went down with those stairs,"Commissioner Thiel said.

Thiel also said occupants who made it out of the home told firefighters everyone was out of the building. He quoted one occupant. "The last time I seen those people was a month ago they moved out and I haven't seen those folks in a little while," Commissioner Thiel said.

L&I says it will immediately re-inspect all 30 properties owned by Granite Hill Properties and its owner Tyrone Duren. Investigators will consult with the district attorney about possible criminal charges.

"It'll be the district attorney's decision on whether they charge," a city official said.

"This is horrible for all of us," Commissioner Thiel said.

Family members expected to speak with reporters on Wednesday. The fire response is still under review as are the actions of the property owner. L&I could not say just yet how many violations have been found at other properties belonging to Granite Hill Properties.

One other occupant of the home jumped to his death.