Olney rowhouse fire kills 14-year-old boy

A fire scene in the 4800 block of North Ninth Street on Monday. A child was injured. (Robert Moran / Staff)
A fire scene in the 4800 block of North Ninth Street on Monday. A child was injured. (Robert Moran / Staff)
Posted: February 19, 2014

A rowhouse fire in Olney left a 14-year-old autistic boy dead and displaced two families late Monday afternoon, authorities said.

The fire broke out at 5:03 on the first floor of a home on the 4800 block of North Ninth Street, Fire Capt. Clifford Gilliam said. Firefighters reached the scene two minutes later, he said.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said the boy "was being ushered out by his adult sister, but he bolted back upstairs. He was afraid."

The sister could not follow the boy and was left to help two younger children escape.

Ayers said he had seen similar reactions from other children with autism. "It's just so sad, because they are so afraid," he said.

When firefighters arrived, flames were roaring out of the first floor, Gilliam said.

The boy was found in a second-floor bedroom, Gilliam said. He was taken to Einstein Medical Center in critical condition and was pronounced dead about two hours later.

"They got him out," Ayers said. "They got him a shot. They got his pulse back. They got him breathing. But it wasn't enough."

Ayers originally reported that the boy was 9 but confirmed later that he was a teen.

By the time the blaze was brought under control at 5:36, at least three houses were involved, fire officials said.

John Gilliam, who lives across the street from the house where the fire started and is Clifford Gilliam's nephew, said he was looking out a second-floor window and "saw the flames coming out the front porch."

He said he called 911 and saw two men going house to house, banging on doors to alert neighbors to the fire.

Once firefighters were able to enter the burning building, they brought out the boy, whose clothes were covered with soot, John Gilliam said.

Firefighters performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him "in the middle of the street," John Gilliam said. They then placed him on a gurney and wheeled him to the south end of the block, where a medic unit was waiting.

The fire damaged at least two other houses, authorities said.

No other injuries were reported.

The Red Cross said it was assisting seven people from two families affected by the fire.

Authorities said they did not know what caused the fire. The investigation was continuing.

bmoran@phillynews.com215-854-5983 @RobertMoran215

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