At least 19 people, including nine children, were killed in a five-alarm fire that broke out Sunday in a high-rise apartment building in the Bronx, the mayor’s office said.
The fire began shortly before 11 a.m. at 333 East 181st Street in the Tremont section of the Bronx, inside a duplex apartment on the third floor of a 19-story building. Roughly 200 firefighters reported to the scene where they found victims “on every floor, in stairways,” undergoing cardiac and respiratory arrest, according to Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, who said this was “unprecedented in our city.”
As many as 66 people were reported injured in the fire, which city officials called one of the most devastating in New York City’s history.
Nigro later said the cause of the fire appeared to be from a space heater that had malfunctioned. A thorough investigation by the Fire Marshal is still pending.
Video posted on Twitter showed smoke billowing out from several windows.
Nigro first spoke to reporters at the scene during a brief press conference just after 1 p.m. with Mayor Eric Adams, who received a briefing from the commissioner.
”This is going to be one of the worst fires we have witnessed here in modern times in the city of New York,” Adams told reporters, noting that the city was planning to open up a school for survivors of the fire to wait as the Red Cross arrives.
Ken Otisi, a 34-year-old accountant who lives on the 12th floor, said he looked out his window at one point and could see smoke billowing from below. “Once I opened my front door, it was nothing but pitch black smoke,” he said. “There was no way I was going to make it.” He instead stayed in his apartment and wet as many towels as he could to prevent the smoke from filling his home.
The last time the city had seen this kind of devastation was in 1990, Nigro said, at a social club in the Bronx called Happy Land, where 87 people died following an act of arson. The Happy Land Fire was the deadliest fire in the city since the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (the two fires occurred 79 years apart, to the day).
At a press conference at 5:30 p.m., Nigro—alongside Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul—said that the cause of the fire appeared to be from a “malfunctioning electrical space heater,” but he added that heat was operating the building. Earlier in the day, he noted that fire officials determined that the door to the apartment that caught on fire was left open, further enabling the fire to spread.
He said the entire duplex apartment where the fire began had been consumed by flames along with part of the hallway. There were smoke alarms throughout the building and the initial 911 call came from a neighbor who heard an alarm going off on the floor.
Adams commended the FDNY for their bravery. At one point, firefighters in the building ran out of oxygen in their tanks but continued in their rescue efforts. “You can’t do this if you don’t feel attached to this city and this community,” he said.
Many of the residents were Muslim families, according to city officials. The mayor said the city would provide appropriate resources for the victims so that they could observe Muslim burial rites
Governor Hochul visited with displaced families that were staying temporarily at a nearby school before the press conference, and said at one point she consoled a mother who lost her entire family. “It’s hard to fathom what they’re going through,” she said.
“We are indeed a city in shock,” she said, before vowing to help the community rebuild their lives. She said she would create a compensation fund for the victims as she goes to work in the next few weeks on the state budget. “Tonight is a night of tragedy and pain. And tomorrow. We begin to rebuild,” she vowed. Similarly, Senator Chuck Schumer said that federal assistance would also be made available to the impacted families.
The building had about 120 units, according to Nigro. The city is working with the Red Cross to help those without housing to stay at hotels.
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