N. Phila. man dies after reentering his burning home

Philadelphia fire department is at the scene of a fatal fire on the 3000 block of N. 9th St. in north Philadelphia on Wednesday, February 12, 2014. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
Philadelphia fire department is at the scene of a fatal fire on the 3000 block of N. 9th St. in north Philadelphia on Wednesday, February 12, 2014. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ) (DN)
Posted: February 14, 2014

As flames crept through the second floor of his North Philadelphia home Wednesday morning, 72-year-old Edwin Walker managed to struggle out of a window onto the porch roof.

Then he climbed back inside.

He reappeared minutes later on the front porch, his neighbors would tell the Fire Department. But he seemed confused and disoriented.

Then, again, he turned around and went inside.

A few neighbors dashed after him. They made it just inside the front door, only to see Walker running upstairs.

By then, fire was consuming the second floor.

Fire companies that arrived minutes later found smoke throughout the two-story house, heavy flames on the second floor, and a treacherous task ahead of them.

Walker, family members said, prided himself as a "collector," and everything from toys to tools and old televisions stood in the way of the firefighters trying to fight their way to the second floor.

"They climbed over tons of stuff," Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said. "There was so much debris."

After 27 minutes, the fire was under control, but a preliminary search turned up no sign of Walker. During a second search, firefighters found his body in a second-floor bathroom.

Outside, Walker's family members gathered on icy sidewalks, hugged, and wiped away tears as firefighters combed through the shell of the house on the 3000 block of North Ninth Street. Debris was still visible through the front door. A pile of charred belongings sagged on the front porch.

Family members described Walker as a hard worker who ran a barbershop on Germantown Avenue for more than 30 years. His passion, though, was "collecting."

"Everything was gold to him," said nephew Kenneth Walker.

The family had spoken to him several times about his possessions, which filled the house.

"We told him, 'You can't live like this,' " his nephew said.

The house was without heat, and Edwin Walker had been staying with a brother around the corner as the weather grew colder.

But he checked on his home several times a day, and was likely doing that when the fire began.

Kenneth Walker said he wasn't sure why his uncle had gone back inside the house, but he had an idea.

"He believed everything in that house was valuable to him," he said. "It wasn't that valuable."

The cause of the fire was still under investigation Wednesday afternoon, and the Fire had not specified the cause of Walker's death.

Ayers said he believed the fire began at the front of the second floor, and that firefighters had found two space heaters in a front room there.

Walker's was the fifth fire-related death of 2014, Ayers said.


awhelan@phillynews.com

215-854-2961

@aubreyjwhelan

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