An electric heater is accused of starting the horrific fire in a high-rise apartment in the Bronx that killed at least 19 people, including nine children, city officials confirmed Sunday evening.
The fire started in a duplex on the second and third floors of the building, but never passed the unit and the hallway closest to the apartment, FDNY commissioner Dan Nigro has revealed. Smoke generated by the duplex fire was able to filter through an open door and spread throughout the 19-story structure, he explained.
“The door to this apartment, unfortunately, when the residents left remained open, it did not close on its own. The smoke spread throughout the building, resulting in huge loss of life.” Nigro said during an evening press briefing.
The functionality of the building’s fire alarms was under investigation, but Nigro said one of them alerted a neighbor to the rising smoke and triggered the initial call to 911. He also said that the building’s heating was also on.
A few hours earlier, the commissioner and mayor Eric Adams had revealed the devastating toll of the morning fire: a total of 63 people had been injured. Thirty-two had been hospitalized with life-threatening injuries and nine others had serious injuries. Sadly, 19 of these victims died.
The overwhelming majority of the victims of the fire suffered from severe smoke inhalation, Nigro said. Firefighters rushing into the building found casualties on almost every floor of the building – many with cardiac and respiratory arrest.
The names and ages of the victims were not disclosed, but firefighters confirmed that of the 19 dead, nine were children.
The leaders elected at the evening press conference explained that many residents of the building were Muslims from The Gambia. The governor, who was there and met with many victims, said a fund would be established for victims of the fires.
“This will be one of the worst fires we’ve seen here in modern times in New York City,” Adams said earlier today.
In photos: Bronx Blaze, New York’s worst fire in more than 30 years, seriously injured dozens
Blown windows and shattered glass line the front of the imposing apartment structure. Videos capturing the first moments of the blaze show flames rising from the windows of the duplex as smoke covered most of the building.
“There were definitely people trapped in their apartments all throughout this building,” said Nigro, calling the smoke conditions “unprecedented”. He said it was unusual for the smoke to spread the length of the building.
The department estimates that 200 of its members responded to the 19-story residential building on 181st Street East in Fordham Heights around 11 a.m.
Firefighters rescued countless tower residents by evacuating them through windows and descending ladders. Several of the members, said the commissioner, lacked oxygen during the rescue operations and continued operations without oxygen.
Karen Dejesus said she was making breakfast in her third-floor apartment when she started seeing smoke.
“We just hovered in the back room… and the next thing we know, we see flames coming out of the back windows and stuff,” she told News 4 New York. “We smell the smoke and the next thing we know, the whole floor and my apartment is black and the fire department kicked in the door to come get us. We had to go out the window and everything.”
City officials opened a nearby school, Angelo Patri Middle School on Webster Avenue, to residents of the building who needed help. The Red Cross also offers assistance to families.
Survivors of the heartbreaking Bronx fire tell shocking stories of their escape from smoky hell. Ida Siegal reports.
Nigro and Adams called Sunday’s disaster one of the city’s worst fires in at least three decades. Over 30 years ago, on March 25, 1990, a fire was intentionally started at the Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx and 87 people were killed.
Asked about rumors on social media that a resident jumped out of the building to seek safety, the commissioner said someone may have slipped while attempting to climb a fire ladder, but he didn’t had received no report from a jumper.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul tweeted that she was “horrified” by Sunday’s fire.
“My heart is with the loved ones of all we have tragically lost, all of those affected and with our heroic firefighters @FDNY,” Hochul wrote. “The whole of New York State stands in solidarity with New York City.“