Philly family braces for Thanksgiving after fire guts home

A Philly family is counting their blessings to have survived a recent fire at their Mayfair home, but bracing for a Thanksgiving marred by the recent conflagration.

Philly mom Yvonne Smith, who survived the Nov. 2 blaze at her Mayfair home along with her 17-year-old son by making a near-miraculous escape, is still hospitalized and breathing through a tube, but has been gaining ground steadily in her recovery from second-degree burns.

Smith’s very survival is due to the bravery of her son — Jalen Watkins, a local high-schooler and basketball player, who woke up inside their home on the 2800 block of Stevens Street, saw the signs of a conflagration, and leaped from a second-floor window to get help.

“I was asleep, I woke up coughing, I said, ‘Wait a minute,'” Watkins recalled. “Sometimes when she’s cooking it will be a little smoky, but it was intense smoke. When I opened my door, that’s when I realized something was bad — I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t even find my phone. … Luckily I play basketball, I’m athletic. I jumped, I was fine.”

It’s not clear exactly how the conflagration erupted in the kitchen, but Watkins got a neighbor to help — and knocked the front door down, freeing his mother who was right behind it.

“The ceiling was breaking and it was super smoky around the time when we found her at the door,” Watkins said. “I dragged her out and then the ambulance came.”

It was only days later, Watkins said, that he realized just how close his family was to tragedy: “If I was asleep for 30 more seconds or one more minute I probably would have died. I woke up conveniently. … I’m just glad everybody got out.”

Now, the family is bracing for the holidays without their home. Watkins has been able to stay with his dad, but his mother remains hospitalized — and she is usually the chef at Thanksgiving, said her niece, Sophia Williams.

“The intensity of what happened, plus it being this holiday week adds this unsaid, extra level of stress, making it really difficult,” Williams described.

Smith was first put in a medically-induced coma by doctors but has been recovering steadily from second-degree burns, family members said, and while she cannot talk due to a tracheotomy, is writing notes to communicate with family, including her sister who visits her every day, Williams said.

Smith had homeowner’s insurance, but no health insurance. The inside of the home was severely burned, the first floor and kitchen were described, and many of their possessions were destroyed.

“There is going to be significant construction and renovations, and cleaning is going to have be done to the home to make it habitable,” Williams said. “It’s kind of difficult to imagine all the things they’re going to need. They lost everything. I dont even know where one starts to rebuild.”

Williams and other family members have set up a GoFundMe to support Yvonne Smith and her son as they cope with the costs of the fire ahead of the holidays. To support the family, you can find the link on or visit it directly at

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