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PHILADELPHIA – A deadly fire that tore through a rowhouse in Philadelphia may have been caused by a child playing with a lighter near a Christmas tree, authorities said Thursday.

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At least 12 people, including eight children, died during the early morning blaze, KYW-TV reported.

Philadelphia investigators sought access to the apartment building where the fire began, Chesley Lightsey, chief of homicide for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Investigators filed a search warrant application Wednesday in Common Pleas Court, the newspaper reported.

According to the warrant, there was information that “a child age 5 or under was playing with a lighter and lit the tree on fire,” Lightsey told reporters.

The child, who lived in the house, ran outside as the fire engulfed the three-story home, The Inquirer reported. The newspaper, quoting two additional sources, said the child told first responders that the Christmas tree was on fire.

Investigators have since spoken with the child and no charges are anticipated since children under the age of 10 cannot be charged in Pennsylvania.

The Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office has yet to formally rule whether the deaths were accidental or homicides, according to The Inquirer.

Kelvin Jeremiah, the president of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, told KYW that fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors were fully operational when they were inspected during the spring of 2021.

Jeremiah added that the family moved into the row home in 2011 and included three generations of relatives.

There were 20 people on the lease, with six for the first floor and 14 for the upper two floors, KYW reported. According to the television station, there were 26 people inside the home when the fire began.

>> Officials: 13 dead in house fire in Philadelphia

The victims include four women, five girls and three boys, KYW reported. Their ages range from 2 to 34, the television station reported.

“They’re babies, young children,” Isaiah Brown, a family cousin, told WTXF-TV. “They didn’t even get to experience life.”

“My sisters and my nieces and my nephews are gone, they are deceased, they are never coming back,” Keta Purifoy told the television station.

Yvette Woods-Carter, 53, leased the lower unit of the rowhouse and lived there with her adult daughter, Tyhara Carter, and three grandchildren, The Inquirer reported. Woods-Carter was not in the residence when it caught fire and declined comment, the newspaper reported.

Debra Jackson said her niece Tyhara Carter, her three children and her boyfriend were able to quickly flee the building, her aunt, Debra Jackson, told The Inquirer. Two grandchildren sustained minor burns but did not require hospitalization, the newspaper reported.

The odd configuration of the building — originally a single-family home that was split into two apartments — made it difficult to navigate, Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy told WTXF. Crews brought the blaze under control in less than an hour, authorities said.