NEW YORK – A faulty heater on a cold Sunday morning caused a fire that filled a large Bronx apartment building with thick smoke, killing 19 people, including nine children. It was the deadliest fire in New York City in three decades.
Trapped residents smashed windows to catch air and filled wet towels under the doors as smoke rose from an apartment on the ground floor where the fire started. It was seen that several lame children were receiving oxygen after making them. The evacuees had their faces covered in soot.
Firefighters found victims on all floors, many of them in cardiac and respiratory arrest, said fire commissioner Daniel Nigro. Some people “could not escape because of the volume of smoke,” he said. More than five dozen people were injured and 13 people were hospitalized in critical condition. The fire commissioner said most of the victims had severe smoke inhalation.
Mayor Eric Adams praised FDNY firefighters for continuing rescues even after their oxygen tanks had run out.
Stefan Ringel, Adams’ senior adviser, said the children who died were 16 years old or younger. Adams told a news conference that many residents were from the West African nation of Gambia.
A man who was taken to a safe place said he was initially mocked when the fire alarm sounded, saying he had fallen asleep with them due to frequent false alarms in the apartment tower. .
Nigro said investigators found the fire “started in a malfunctioning electric heater” in an apartment unit covering the second and third floors of the 19-story building. The apartment door and the stairwell door were left open, letting smoke quickly spread throughout the building, Nigro said.
Building resident Sandra Clayton said she ran to save her life when she saw the hallway filled with black smoke and heard people shout, “Get out! Get out!”
Clayton, 61, said he walked down a darkened staircase, grabbing his dog in his arms. The smoke was so thick and black that he could not see it, but he noticed that there were other tenants nearby because he heard their cries and their cries of panic.
His dog, Mocha, slipped from his arms in the commotion and was later found dead on the stairs.
“I ran down the stairs as much as I could, but people were falling on me, screaming,” Clayton said from a hospital where she was treated for smoke inhalation.
About 200 firefighters responded to the 181st East Street building around 11 a.m. Sunday.
Building resident Luis Rosa also thought it was a false alarm at first, but when he received a notification on the phone, he and his mother began to worry. Then the smoke began to rise in his 13th floor apartment and he heard sirens in the distance.
He opened the front door, but the smoke had become too thick to escape, he said.
“Once I opened the door, I couldn’t even see that far down the hall,” Rosa told The Associated Press. “So I said, okay, we can’t go down the stairs because if we run down the stairs, we’re going to drown.”
“All we could do was wait,” he said.
Another resident, Vernessa Cunningham, said she returned home from church after receiving an alert on her cell phone that the building was on fire.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was in a state of shock,” Cunningham, 60, said at a nearby school where some residents met. “I saw my apartment. All the windows were broken. And I could see flames coming from the back of the building.”
The 120-unit Twin Parks North West complex building was built in 1973 as part of a project to build modern, affordable housing in the Bronx.
The gray-brown building stands on an intersection of smaller, older brick buildings overlooking Webster Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares in the Bronx.
On Sunday afternoon, all that was visible from the unit where the fire started was a large black hole where the windows had been broken. Apartments as high as the 12th floor also had broken windows. The intersection was suffocated by police and fire vehicles, and spectators were still taking pictures of the structure with their cell phones as darkness fell.
“There is no guarantee that there will be a fire alarm that works in every apartment or common area,” U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, a Democrat representing the area, told the AP. “Most of these buildings have no sprinkler system. So the Bronx housing stock is much more susceptible to devastating fires than most of the city’s housing stock.”
Nigro and Torres compared the severity of the fire to a 1990 fire at Happy Land social club where 87 people died when a man set fire to the building after arguing with his ex-girlfriend and being kicked out of the Bronx club.
The death toll on Sunday was the highest for a fire in the city since the Happy Land fire. It was also the deadliest fire in a U.S. apartment building since 2017, when 13 people died in an apartment building, also in the Bronx, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
That fire started with a 3-year-old boy playing with a stove and led to several changes in the law in New York City, including the fact that the fire department created a plan to educate children and parents about fire safety and require the installation of certain residential buildings. automatic closing doors.
Sunday’s fire broke out just days after 12 people, including eight children, were killed in a house fire in Philadelphia. The deadliest fire before that was in 1989, when a fire in a Tennessee apartment building claimed the lives of 16 people.
Associated Press reporters Michael R. Sisak and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.