19 dead in deadliest New York fire in decades
Nineteen people, including nine children, were killed on Sunday when an apartment fire sparked by a faulty radiator sent smoke into a Bronx skyscraper, officials said, in the blaze most murderer that New York City has known for more than three decades.
Another 44 people were injured, including 13 seriously, after occupants of the third-floor apartment where the fire started fled without closing the door behind them, Fire Marshal Daniel A. Nigro said, during a press conference at the scene.
“The smoke spread throughout the building resulting in huge loss of life and other people fighting for their lives,” he said.
Smoke from the fire spread to the top of the 19-story building, darkening hallways and stairwells and shocking residents who had heard the fire alarms but did not respond immediately as they had grown used to it. frequent alarms in the building. Firefighters found casualties on every floor and worked to rescue them even as their own oxygen tanks ran out of oxygen, Commissioner Nigro said.
Dana Campbell was called home by her four children when smoke began to seep into their apartment. She arrived as they jumped from a third-story window onto a makeshift landing pad and was relieved to see that they had not been injured.
“You can be here tomorrow with broken legs,” she said. “You can’t be here tomorrow with the smoke inhaling.”
The fire toll was the city’s worst since 87 people died in an intentional fire at a Bronx nightclub in 1990 and was a first test for the city’s new mayor, Eric Adams. “The numbers are horrible,” Adams said at the first of two press conferences on the site.
He pledged the city will provide support for the victims, many of whom are Muslim immigrants from the West African nation of The Gambia.
“We’re all feeling that, and we’re going to be there for this community to help them get through that,” he said later, when he returned to the site.
About 30 people remained in the hospital on Sunday evening, Adams said. He urged all injured and displaced victims to seek help and assured those who may be undocumented that their information will not be passed on to federal immigration authorities.
Governor Kathy Hochul, who spoke at the second press conference, said she would include funding to help victims cover housing and burial costs in her budget proposal next week. She described the detention of a mother who lost her entire family to the fire.
“Tonight is a night of tragedy and pain, and tomorrow we start to rebuild,” she said.
A city official, who requested anonymity as the blaze was still under investigation, said firefighters believed the heater had been running continuously for several days. Residents were using heat to supplement the building’s heating, which was on, officials said.
Apartment doors left open during fires have featured in some of the city’s worst fires, including a blaze in the Bronx in 2017 that killed 13 people. The fire was started by a young boy playing with the stove in his family’s first-floor apartment and quickly ravaged the building.
The building where Sunday’s deadly fire occurred is in Fordham Heights, in the West Bronx. Built in 1972, it does not have fire escape stairs like most modern skyscrapers, and residents must rely on the stairwells in an emergency.
The building, like the surrounding neighborhood, is home to working-class families of African-American, African, and Hispanic descent, some of whom use federal Section 8 coupons to help pay rent. Residents described the building as a melting pot of races, religions and languages. Several said the sound of the fire alarm is so common that people have learned to ignore it.
Ms Campbell, who lives on the third floor, said fire alarms in the building go off five or six times a day. When they do, she said, “I roll my eyes.”
The tower is owned by three investors – LIHC Investment Group, Belveron Partners and Camber Property Group – who bought it along with seven other rent-regulated buildings in the borough for $ 166 million in early 2020. One of the co- Camber’s founders, Rick Gropper, is a housing advisor to Mr. Adams.
A spokeswoman for the building’s owners said smoke detectors were sometimes set off by people smoking in stairwells. But she said they were not aware of any issues with the devices and that the alarms sounded correctly during Sunday’s fire.
“We are devastated by the unimaginable loss of life caused by this profound tragedy,” the owners said in a statement.
Authorities said the blaze was the deadliest since the 1990 Happy Land nightclub fire in the Bronx, located not far from the site of Sunday’s blaze. The club, which operated illegally, had no sprinklers and several exits were blocked by security roller shutters.
The Happy Land fire was started by an abandoned lover whose ex-girlfriend worked at the club; he was sentenced to life in prison and died while serving his sentence in 2016.
Sunday’s blaze came just days after a fire at an overcrowded Philadelphia townhouse killed a dozen people, including eight children. Investigators are investigating the possibility that the fire was caused by a child playing with a lighter near a Christmas tree, according to a warrant application filed in state court.
The sheer size of the Bronx building almost guaranteed that many more lives would be in danger. The building has approximately 120 units ranging from studios to four-bedroom apartments.
Home inspectors stayed late Sunday at the scene of the blaze, where they determined the building was stable and allowed some residents to stay.
People displaced by the fire have been offered hotel rooms through the American Red Cross until they can return to their apartments or find permanent accommodation, officials said.
For residents of the building, the blaze interrupted routine Sunday activities – showers, breakfast, coffee and sleep – with death threats.
Ahouss Balima, 20, and his family were sleeping in their apartment on the ninth floor when he was awakened by the screams of someone begging for help. After waking his three sisters and parents, they started running downstairs but were stopped by firefighters on the sixth floor who told them their escape route was too dangerous, he said.
The family then ran to a room in another apartment where others were gathered and they could see light streaming from a window. But the smoke was dark and suffocating, and they began to struggle to breathe and see. A sister cried and her mother cried for help.
They were eventually rescued by firefighters, but one of her sisters was taken to hospital in critical condition, vomiting from the smoke.
“It really breaks my heart,” Mr. Balima said.
At the Jacobi Medical Center a few kilometers away, Ibrahim Seece, 48, said he came to the hospital to show his support for the close-knit Gambian community who lived in the building.
“If a fire like this happens, everyone has sympathy,” said Mr. Seece. “If God did it, we appreciate it because God is powerful.”
Hassane Badr, 28, said his brother and sister died in the blaze. He was looking for another brother on Sunday night.
“We don’t know where he is,” Badr said. “We have no idea.”
A few meters away, a man sobbed and sat on the ground telling a group of reporters that he had lost two children in the fire.
“I’m sorry,” he told the TV cameras, shaking a white plastic bag full of personal belongings. “I can not talk.”
The report was provided by Matthieu haag, Giulia Heyward, Jeffery C. Mays, Eduardo Medina, Ana Ley, Azi Paybarah, Alexandra E. Petri and Sean Piccoli.