8 die in week-long fiery epidemic

Neighbors of those who lost their lives in the early morning fire gather near the site, in shock, in tears, and spreading the word by phone.
Neighbors of those who lost their lives in the early morning fire gather near the site, in shock, in tears, and spreading the word by phone. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

In W. Philly, another 4 die, making it 8 this week alone, victims of a fiery epidemic

Posted: April 17, 2012

RISHYA Jenkins was planning her wedding.

She had her dress picked out, a white ball gown studded with rhinestones that looked "very Cinderella," her friend Twila Thickems said. Jenkins' boyfriend of five years had put a down payment on the ring, and they'd decided on a date in June, Thickems said.

But tragedy struck Monday, when fire broke out just before 5 a.m. in the family's West Philadelphia rowhouse.

Jenkins' fiance, Anthony McClendon, discovered the flames when he got home from work. He tried repeatedly to plow past the fire and smoke to save her, their two young children and his elderly father.

But the inferno was too intense.

Jenkins died in the two-story, redbrick rowhouse on Chancellor Street near 52nd. Her son, Jayden McClendon, 2, and stepson, Cyncere McClendon, 4, died shortly after arriving at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. And the boys' grandfather Seneca "Chuck" McClendon died at Misericordia Hospital.

Anthony McClendon was so upset, he was taken for medical treatment, relatives said.

It was the latest in a string of heartbreaking fires in the past week, including the monstrous blaze in Kensington that killed two firefighters, and a rowhouse fire that killed a woman and her great-granddaughter on Sunday.

The cause of Monday's fire remains under investigation. Firefighters found no smoke detectors in the home, Executive Chief Richard Davison said.

As firefighters finished their work Monday morning, relatives gathered on 52nd Street to mourn for a family that was a longtime fixture on the block.

Chuck McClendon, a Mississippi native, bought the house in 1982, after living for years in New Orleans and Albany, N.Y., his sister Arcenia McClendon said.

"He was a dynamite cook," she said. "Every holiday, everybody wanted to go to his house [for dinner]. Pan-fried stuffing was his specialty." She added that he also spent a few years cooking for New York's governor, in Albany, decades ago.

In Philly, he worked for the Postal Service, she added. Since he retired, he was a frequent sight riding his bicycle, Thickems said.

He loved having his grandsons underfoot, his niece Daja Forrest said. The preschoolers liked Transformers toys, video games and shows like "Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!"

"Cyncere was so sweet, so full of manners," Thickems said. "Before he would say anything, he'd start: 'Excuse me!' And Jayden, he was just always smiling."

Sitting on a stoop around the corner from her brother's burned house, Arcenia McClendon accepted condolences from well-wishers on a day that she should have been celebrating her 74th birthday. Faith in God kept her eyes dry as she remembered her lost loved ones, she said.

"I'm 74 today," she said. "I've been with the Lord for 75 years. There's a time and a place for everything, and when God does things, there is a reason. That's not for me to know today. Tomorrow, He's going to talk with me. That's why I can be peaceful now."


Contact Dana DiFilippo at 215-854-5934 or difilid@phillynews.com, or follow her on Twitter @DanaDiFilippo.

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