Firefighter was father to 3 of 5 children killed in day-care fire in Pennsylvania

Erie Bureau of Fire Inspector Mark Polanski helps investigate a fatal fire in Erie, Pa., on Sunday. The early morning fire in Pennsylvania claimed the lives of five children and sent another person to the hospital.
(Greg Wohlford / AP)

Officials said Monday that a volunteer firefighter was the father of three of five children who died in a blaze at an all-night child-care center in Pennsylvania.

Lawrence Park Township Volunteer Fire Chief Joe Crotty said Luther Jones’ two daughters and a son were killed in the fire.

The children haven’t been formally identified, but the Erie Fire Department said the dead range in age from 8 months to 7 years. The home owner was hospitalized after the fire Sunday.


Crotty said that at the time of the fire Jones was responding to another call for what turned out to be a malfunctioning alarm.

Erie fire officials said the children were staying overnight at a house that had been turned into a day-care center.

Erie Chief Fire Inspector John Widomski said the fire, reported about 1:15 a.m. Sunday, was funneling out of every first-floor window when firefighters arrived.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation, Widomski said.

The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership lists the Harris Family Daycare as “a 24 hour, 7 days a week childcare service including holidays.”

The state Department of Human Services Office of Child Development and Early Learning listed the day care as in compliance with requirements following a Dec. 28, 2018, inspection. But a Jan. 3, 2019, inspection note on that listing highlighted “ashes and cigarette or cigar butts” in “a child care space, play space or food preparation area.”

The day-care center’s response to the note reads, “I will make sure it will be cleaned up and remain that way,” and the department listed the issue as corrected.


Another department note from the same date reads, “protective receptacle covers shall be placed in electrical outlets accessible to children 5 years of age or younger,” to which the day care’s response was, “I turned the outlets so they were closed. I will make sure that they are turned closed when not in use.”

That issue was also listed as being corrected.

Widomski said the fire appeared to have started in the living room area on the first floor. The department’s two fire inspectors and three Erie police detectives trained in fire investigations are working to determine the cause of the blaze.

The owner of the center was flown to UPMC Mercy for treatment, officials said, and Erie police detectives said the owner was listed in stable condition.