Investigators looking at whether door malfunction contributed to Bronx fire deaths

It is believed smoke spread in the building because of a ‘maintenance issue’ with a self-closing door

Bronx fire: Smoke pours from apartment window, screaming, crashing sounds as deadly blaze kills 19

A self-closing door is at the centre of an investigation into a fire at a building in New York’s Bronx borough that killed 17 people.

It emerged that smoke from the fire – and not the fire itself – had caused the deaths because of a possible “maintenance issue” with the self-closing door that allowed the smoke to escape and spread in the 19-storey building, New York city officials said on Monday.

“There may have been a maintenance issue with this door, and that is going to be part of the ongoing investigation,” New York city’s mayor Eric Adams said.

“This is all going to come out during the investigation.”

The blaze had broken out on Sunday morning on the third floor of the Twin Parks North West building when a space heater in a bedroom of the apartment malfunctioned.

Although 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 to other parts of the building.

The complex, which contained 120 units, provided affordable housing for low-income New Yorkers, with many residents being Gambian immigrants.

Another door, which led from the 15th floor to a staircase, was also left open and was not functioning properly, fire commissioner Daniel Nigro said at a news conference.

He added the residents would have been safer if they had not tried to escape through the smoke-filled stairways.

The doors are supposed to close by themselves and we are undertaking the investigation into what might have happened, Mr Nigro said.

“We do recommend in high-rise fireproof buildings that people should shelter in place, and it’s safer to be in your apartment than to venture out and try to get down the stairs and sometimes into a much more dangerous situation,” Mr Nigro said.

Mamadou Wague, the resident of the fateful 2nd-3rd floor duplex flat where the fire started, told the New York Post that he might have pushed the front door too far during the rescue of his family, such that it got stuck.

The 47-year-old father of eight kids said he was not aware of the door being left open until he was told by officials later.

“When you push the door all the way to the edge, it didn’t close by itself,” said Mr Wague. “It’s very sad. I don’t even remember the door staying open because all I could think about was getting everybody out,” he said.

The family was sleeping before 11am when some of the children started to scream and woke up the father.

“I heard my kids screaming, ‘Fire! Fire in their room’,” he said. “I just got up and ran back there. I told them, ‘Everybody get out!’ And everybody got out.”

He said when he went downstairs, he was told his daughter Nafisha was still in bed. When he ran back up to find her, he saw her mattress was on fire.

She had burns and remains in hospital along with her mother.

“When there’s so much smoke and fire, all you can think is, ‘If I don’t get out of here, I will die’,” he said.

“I feel very, very sorry for the people who died,” he said. “I’m praying for them. I’m praying for everybody.”

At least two residents of the building told Reuters that false fire alarms used to routinely go off in the building and were not always heeded.

John Maroney, 59, a survivor, recounted being awakened by firemen when his 13th-floor apartment filled with smoke. He was given oxygen by emergency personnel after being taken out of his unit.

Around 60 people were left injured following the devastating fire, with 32 of them being hospitalised with life-threatening injuries, officials said on Sunday.

Mr Adams said he spoke to president Joe Biden, who has pledged that the White House will provide assistance.

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