Bronx fire: Everything we know about the deadly blaze in New York that killed 17, including 8 children

Officials say the fire started from a malfunctioning space heater in a duplex apartment

Sravasti Dasgupta,Megan Sheets
Monday 10 January 2022 18:48
Bronx fire: Smoke pours from apartment window, screaming, crashing sounds as deadly blaze kills 19
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At least 17 people, including eight children, were killed and dozens injured in a fire at a high-rise apartment building in New York City’s Bronx borough on 9 January.

Here’s everything we know so far about the blaze – said to be the deadliest witnessed in the city in 30 years:

What started the Bronx fire?

Officials with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) said the fire started from a malfunctioning space heater being used to supplement heating in a duplex apartment on the second and third floor of the 19-storey apartment building.

Officials said the flames did not spread far and only burnt the unit where the fire started as well as an adjacent hallway.

“The marshals have determined through physical evidence and through firsthand accounts by the residents that this fire started in a bedroom in a portable electric heater,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters.

The door to the apartment and a door to the stairwell had been left open which caused the smoke to spread quickly throughout the building.

Mr Nigro added that while the fire was contained in the hallway, “unprecedented” smoke spread quickly through the building.

Around 200 fire department officials were deployed after the fire erupted around 11am on Sunday in the 120-unit apartment building.

How many victims were there?

On Sunday, officials announced 19 people, including nine children, had been killed in the blaze. The death toll was downgraded by two to 17, including eight children, at a press conference on Monday.

Stefan Ringel, a senior adviser to Mayor Eric Adams, said the children who died were 16 years old or younger.

At least 63 people were injured by “severe smoke inhalation” and 32 were sent to area hospitals in life-threatening condition.

Firefighters found victims on every floor in stairways, many of them in cardiac and respiratory arrest, said Mr Nigro.

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.

APTOPIX Apartment Building Fire

Survivors recount horror

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.”

What have officials said?

Mayor Adams said the Bronx fire was one of the worst in the city’s history.

“This is going to be one of the worst fires we have witnessed here in modern times in the city of New York,” Mr Adams told reporters on Sunday.

Later in a tweet, he said that a fund had been set up by the mayor’s office to help survivors.

“I am horrified by the devastating fire in the Bronx today,” New York governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement on Twitter.

“My heart is with the loved ones of all those we’ve tragically lost, all of those impacted and with our heroic [New York City Fire Department] firefighters,” the statement said.

The Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, the name of the joint venture that owns the building, said in a statement that it was “devastated”.

“We are cooperating fully with the Fire Department and other city agencies as they investigate its cause, and we are doing all we can to assist our residents,” the joint venture was quoted as saying by ABC News.

Fire officials said the building did not have a fire escape.

Mayor Adams added that the building had housed a largely Muslim population of Gambian immigrants.

On Monday, the mayor warned that the death toll could still rise as dozens of people remained hospitalised.

“This is really an evolving crisis,” he told a press conference. “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.”

What’s under investigation?

Officials have said investigators probing the fire are looking closely at smoke alarms and self-closing doors.

Mr Nigro said investigators are looking into reports of malfunctioning alarms after several residents said they were known to go off at random.

He also noted that while there were no fire escapes on the building, there are “interior stairways”.

“The residents should know where the stairwells are, and I think some of them could not escape because of the volume of smoke,” he said.

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 fire commissioner 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.

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, Mr Nigro 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.”

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

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