Bronx fire: Death toll from devastating blaze downgraded by two to 17, including eight children

The fire – said to be the deadliest witnessed in New York City in 30 years – broke out just before 11am local time on Sunday

Megan Sheets
New York
Tuesday 11 January 2022 00:01
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Bronx fire: Death toll from devastating blaze downgraded by two to 17
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The death toll from a devastating blaze that ripped through an apartment complex in the Bronx borough of New York City has been downgraded to 17, including eight children.

Mayor Eric Adams announced the updated death toll – with two fewer than previously thought – at a press conference on Monday. He did not offer an explanation for the lower count.

“This is really an evolving crisis,” the mayor said. “As it evolves and we get new information we’re going to share the information. This is an unspeakable tragedy. We’re going to remain vigilant to address this horrific tragedy.”

The five-alarm fire, said to be the deadliest witnessed in the city in 30 years, broke out just before 11am local time on Sunday, according to the New York City Fire Department (FDNY).

It is believed to have started by a malfunctioning space heater in the bedroom of a duplex on the second and third floors of the 19-storey building. While the flames were contained to that unit, the door was left open when the occupants fled, allowing smoke to billow out into the hallway and throughout other parts of the building.

In the hours after the fire, city officials said it had left 63 people injured from “severe smoke inhalation”, including 32 who were sent to hospitals with life-threatening injuries. Officials originally said the dead included nine children, but that number was downgraded to eight at Monday’s press conference.

All of the 17 deaths appeared to have stemmed from smoke inhalations, not from burns, an official said.

As of midday Monday, more than 60 people remained hospitalised with 13 in critical condition.

Mayor Adams warned that the death toll could still rise, telling CNN: “We pray to God that they’ll be able to pull through.”

Fire in Bronx apartment building leaves 19 people dead, including nine children

Also at Monday’s press conference, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said investigators believe that the self-closing mechanism on the door to the apartment where the fire started and on a door on the 15th floor were not functioning properly. Because those doors remained open, the surrounding floors became “untenable”, Mr Nigro said.

Speaking to Good Morning America earlier in the day, Mayor Adams said: “It appears the ability to have the smoke spread is due to the door [of the unit where the fire started] being open. There may have been a maintenance issue with this door and that is going to be part of the ongoing investigation.”

Self-closing doors have been required by New York City law in all buildings with three or more units since 2018.

At the press conference, the mayor said the city planned to increase awareness efforts to ensure residents know to close their doors when fleeing a fire.

Investigators are also looking into whether any smoke alarms malfunctioned during the fire, as well as reports of previous complaints about alarms going off “all the time”.

Asked on Monday if there were smoke detectors in the hallways, Mr Nigro said they are only required in apartments and that he didn’t know if having them in the halls would have helped.

The complex, which contains 120 units, was built in 1972 with federal funding – meaning it may not have adhered to the New York City fire code, the FDNY commissioner said. However, he said that was unlikely to have been a factor in this fire.

Mayor Adams said there have been a few violations recorded at the building in recent years, but none of them were outstanding at the time of the blaze.

“This is all going to come out during the investigation,” he said. “This is really early in the investigation.”

Around 200 firefighters responded to the scene on Sunday morning and found victims on every floor in stairways, many of them in cardiac and respiratory arrest, Mr Nigro said.

He added that some could not escape because of the volume of the smoke.

Mayor Adams said officials continued to work towards rescuing victims even as air supplies ran out.

Some survivors said when the smoke alarms went off, many disregarded them because there had been several false smoke alarms in the building in the past.

Survivors recounted trying to escape through darkened hallways through thick smoke.

Luis Rosa, a resident of the building, told the Associated Press: “So I said, OK, we can’t run down the stairs because if we run down the stairs, we’re going to end up suffocating.”

“All we could do was wait,” he added.

Daisy Mitchell, who lived on the 10th floor, said her husband smelled smoke and noticed the fire.

“The alarm was going off for a while so I didn’t pay it no mind,” Ms Mitchell told CNN. “Then, when he opened the door and I went out there, I passed out – it was devastating, it was like really scary.

“I went to the stairs, I opened the door, it just blew me back [to] the house. If I’d stayed out there for another three seconds, I would have been gone too.”

The city launched a fundraiser for those affected by the fire, which can be found here.

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