Fire officials blame smoking for fatal blaze in West Philadelphia

Posted: August 12, 2010

Careless smoking caused the fire on Saturday that killed a 12-year-old boy with autism in West Philadelphia, fire officials announced yesterday.

"He's gone," Lernin Perez said through tears as she reflected on the life of her son, Frank Marasco.

Fire officials said smoking materials, possibly a cigarette, were found inside a couch on the first floor of the two-story home.

Only one smoke alarm - which didn't work - was found in the house, fire officials said.

When the fire occurred, the engine company nearest to the house where Marasco died was closed as part of the city's rolling brownouts. The incident has been used by neighbors and union leaders to lash out against the plan to save the city $3.8 million.

"It's not worth the few million dollars to jeopardize human life," Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said last night at a vigil held in front of the house. "Some things should be exempt, this is one of them."

The nearest fire station, Engine 57, at 5559 Chestnut St., was away for routine maintenance and closed an hour before the fire due to the brownouts.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said the apparatus was repaired and available in the early afternoon. He acknowledged that had Engine 57 not been browned out the apparatus could have been picked up earlier and that they possibly could have been available for the 9-1-1 call.

"Yeah, that's a chance," said Ayers, but "a brownout is not the cause of that child's death."

Ayers and neighbors said Marasco's father, David Smothers, 40, tried to get his son out of the house that day, but he pulled away and ran back upstairs.

"I'm going to miss him very much," said Perez. "He was my only son. Everybody who knows me knows I did the best for him."

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