NEW YORK (AP) – New York City’s deadliest fire in more than three decades killed 19 people, including nine children, in a high-rise apartment building in the Bronx on Sunday.
Flames erupted from apartment windows as smoke filled the building. A resident rescued by firefighters said he had become unresponsive to fire alarms due to frequent false alarms.
Stefan Ringel, senior adviser to Mayor Eric Adams, confirmed the death toll. He said the children killed were 16 or younger.
Thirteen people remained hospitalized in critical condition, Ringel said. In total, more than five dozen people were injured. Most of the victims had severe smoke inhalations, said Fire Marshal Daniel Nigro.
Adams called the fire’s toll “horrific” and said “it will be one of the worst fires we have seen in modern times.”
Firefighters “found victims on every floor and brought them out in cardiac and respiratory arrest,” Nigro said. “It’s unheard of in our city. “
About 200 firefighters responded to the 181st Street East building around 11 a.m. Sunday. Local media reported on Sunday evening that the FDNY had determined that a heater in an apartment bedroom on the second or third floor of the 19-story building was likely to blame.
News photographers captured footage of firefighters entering the upper floors of the burning building on a ladder, several limp children receiving oxygen after their execution and being evacuated with their faces covered in soot.
Apartment building resident Luis Rosa said he was woken up on Sunday by a fire alarm, but initially dismissed it, believing it to be one of the periodic false alarms in the ‘building. But when a notification appeared on his phone, he and his mother started to worry.
At this point, smoke began to seep into his 13th floor apartment and he heard sirens in the distance.
He opened the front door, but the smoke had grown 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 run down the stairs because if we go down the stairs we’re going to suffocate eventually.”
“All we could do was wait,” he said.
Another resident, Vernessa Cunningham, said she ran 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 shock, ”said Cunningham, 60, from a nearby school where some residents gathered. “I could see my apartment. The windows were all smashed. And I could see flames coming from the back of the building.
Sunday’s fire started in a duplex apartment spanning the second and third floors, Nigro said. Firefighters found the apartment door open, he said, which apparently allowed the blaze to accelerate quickly and spread smoke upwards.
The fire is not suspect, but the cause is under investigation, officials said.
The 120-unit Twin Parks North West complex was built in 1973 as part of a modern, affordable housing project in the Bronx.
The drab brown building towers over an intersection of smaller, aging brick buildings overlooking Webster Avenue, one of the Bronx’s main thoroughfares.
On Sunday afternoon, all that remained visible of the unit where the fire started was a gaping black hole whose windows had been blown out. Apartments as high as the 12th floor also had broken windows. The intersection was crowded with police and fire vehicles, and onlookers still took photos of the structure with their mobile phones after dark.
“There is no guarantee that there is a working fire alarm in every apartment or in every common space,” US Representative Ritchie Torres, a Democrat who represents the region, told the AP. “Most of these buildings don’t have sprinkler systems. And so the Bronx housing stock is much more susceptible to devastating fires than most housing in the city. “
Nigro and Torres both compared the severity of the fire to a 1990 fire at the Happy Land social club where 87 people were killed when a man set the building on fire after arguing with his former girlfriend and being kicked out of the Bronx club.
Sunday’s death toll was the highest for a fire in the city since the Happy Land fire. It is also the deadliest fire in a U.S. residential building since 2017, when 13 people died in a building, also in the Bronx, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association.
This fire started with a 3-year-old boy playing with stove burners and led to several law changes in New York City, including asking firefighters to create a plan to educate children and parents about fire safety and by requiring the installation of certain residential buildings. self-closing doors.
Sunday’s fire came just days after 12 people, including eight children, were killed in a house fire in Philadelphia. The deadliest fire before this occurred in 1989 when a fire in an apartment building in Tennessee claimed the lives of 16 people.