New York: At least 12 people were killed when a fire fueled by gusty winds tore through a century-old apartment building in the Bronx on a frigid Thursday night, New York City officials said. It was the deadliest fire in the city in more than a quarter-century.
The blaze broke out on the first floor of a five-story building just before 7 pm and quickly tore through the structure near the Bronx Zoo. Some tenants of the building, a mix of native New Yorkers and Latino and African immigrants, climbed down fire escapes. But the flames moved so fast that many never made it out of their apartments.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation.In addition to the deaths, four people were critically injured and two people sustained non-life-threatening injuries, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference late on Thursday. The youngest among the dead was 1 year old, the oldest over 50.
“Tonight in the Bronx we’ve seen the worst fire tragedy in at least a quarter of a century,’’ the mayor said on Twitter. “It is unspeakable, and families have been torn apart.” The fire began on the first floor but quickly spread throughout the building, as the wind fed oxygen to the flames. The people who died were on various floors, the fire commissioner, Daniel A Nigro, said. The blaze grew to five-alarm status, and more than 160 firefighters responded.
It was a bitterly cold night, with temperatures around 15 degrees, and the wind chill made it feel below zero. Water leaking from fire hoses froze in streaks on the concrete, and displaced residents walked around draped in American Red Cross blankets.
Three young girls were whisked into a neighboring building after climbing down a fire escape with no shoes or coats.Officials said they were opening up the nearby Grace H Dodge vocational high school as a reception center for people who needed housing and other services. People looking for relatives who lived in the building were also told to go to the school, or to call 311.
A resident, Luz Hernandez, said she first realized something was wrong when the smell of burning rubber filled her apartment on the fourth floor, followed by smoke so thick that the room turned pitch-black. She summoned her husband and two sons, 11 and 16, to the window, and they descended the front fire escape as smoke rose near them.
Down the street, under a sign welcoming visitors to Little Italy, Dianna Reyes, another resident, wailed as she hopped out of a Red Cross vehicle. She said that she had escaped with her daughter and pulled a neighbor’s two children from the fire, but that she had to leave other children behind. “I had one on my front and one on my back,” Reyes said, sobbing. “I couldn’t carry the rest of them.”
The building, constructed of plaster and brick, was not fireproof. It was built in 1916 and had more than 20 units, according to property records. City records indicate that the building had six open violations, including one for a defective smoke detector on the first floor. That was the floor where the fire began.