4 Children killed, 2 other persons injured in Camden fire

Philadelphia Inquirer - December 2, 1980

CAMDEN -- Four children were killed and two persons were injured early yesterday when a fire swept through a brick rowhouse in a low-income neighborhood here just north of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

The two-alarm fire at 328 Erie St. broke out shortly before 6 a.m., killing Tanya Adams, 11, and her three brothers, Andre, 10, Steven, 9, and Tyhe, 8.

The children's mother, Merel Hall, 27 and her husband, Robert Hall, 21 escaped the blaze by craling out a second floor bedroom window onto the roof of the front porch. Hall fell from the roof, sustaining a broken wrist and ankle. Both were admitted to Cooper Medical Center for treatment of smoke inhalation and other injuries.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

Mrs. Hall's brother, Leroy Adams, attempted to rescue the children, but was thwarted by smoke and flames.

Firefighters found the bodies of Tanya, Steven and Tyhe in the middle bedroom on the second floor. Andre's body was found near the only window in the rear bedroom of the three-bedroom home.

"I heard a scream and I peeped out the window and I saw them on the roo," Adams, 32, who lives across the street from the Hall house, said yesterday.

"I ran downstairs and across the street and went up the pole (a column supporting the porch roof) and onto the roof. Merel said the kids were inside, so I went in the window -- inside the front bedroom. I couldn't go no further because of the smoke; I couldn't breathe. So I went back outside and got a breath and tried to go back in.

"But when I tried to go back the second time, the flames broke through the bedroom door," he said.

By that time, according to neighbors, firefighters had arrived at the scene and were hosing down the front of the building, one of 12 homes in a block-long row anchored at each end by boarded-up houses.

"I got here about 6:30, and there were three guys here with fire hoses," said Elmer Chandler, 27, Mrs. Hall's brother-in-law. Chandler, of East Camden, had been alerted by a phone call from the home of Mrs. Hall's mother, Hallie Adams, 50, who also lives across the street from her daughter.

"Leroy was on the roof, and he was yelling, 'There are kids in there!'" Chandler said. "The firemen said, 'Kids in there? we didn't know that.'"

At that point, according to neighbors and other witnesses, the front of the house, including the porch roof, was nearly engulfed in flames and entry was impossible.

Firefighters were able to confine the blaze to the Hall home. The two houses adjacent to it sustained only minor damage, and there were no injuries to the occupants.

The fire was first reported by a telephone call from a neighbor "at about 6 am.," according to fire officials. The first alarm was sounded at 6:16, followed by a second alarm at 6:23. The fire was declared under control at 6:45.

As neighbors and relatives milled about the street outside the Hall home yesterday afternoon, investigators from the Camden fire marshal's office and the arson unit of the Camden County prosecutor's office sifted through the building's charred interior, searching for clues to the cause of the blaze.

"The place was pretty well gutted," Fire Marshal Harold H. Pike said. "It's going to be tough (finding the cause), but we're just going to keep digging."

Across the street, family members fathered on the front porch of Hallie Adams' house, awaiting her return from Cooper Medical Center, where she had been treated for what a hospital spokesman called "anxiety" and released. Also treated was Mrs. Adams' daughter, Monica, 17, who sustained smoke inhalation.

"It must have happened awfully fast," said Carl Adams, 32, another brother of Mrs. Hall, who had been called to the scene from his home in Chester.

"Those kids were sensitive to fire," he said, staring into the black cavity that was once a living room. "They knew about fire. It must have burned awfully quick for them not to get out.

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