The fire, which killed 17 people in the Bronx, is a “tragedy” that will demonstrate the resilience of the city, New York Mayor Eric Adams said at a briefing today.
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Seventeen people, including eight children, died on Sunday in a fire in the Bronx. Dozens of people were in the hospital on Monday, 13 of them were in critical condition. The fire has already become the deadliest in the city in three decades. Investigators determined a faulty electric heater was to blame. The flames damaged only a small part of the 19-story building, but smoke poured through the open door and turned the stairwells into dark, ash-choked horrors.
Adams called it “untold tragedy” at a press conference near the scene.
“This tragedy will not define us,” Adams said. “It will show our resilience.”
Adams lowered the death toll, saying that two fewer people were killed than initially estimated. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the patients were taken to seven hospitals and “there was a little double the number.”
According to city councilor Oswald Feliz, children as young as 4 were among the dead.
Investigators found that a faulty electric heater turned on on a cold morning was the cause of the fire in the 19-story building.
The flames damaged only a small part of the building, but smoke poured through the open door of the apartment and turned stairwells – the only escape route in a building too high for fire escapes – into dark, ash-filled death traps.
Adams said there were self-closing doors in the building and that investigators are investigating if the door is out of order.
“There may be a maintenance problem with this door. And it will be part of … an ongoing investigation, “the mayor told ABC’s Good Morning America.
According to Nigro, some people were unable to escape due to the smoke. Others became incapacitated when they tried to get out. Firefighters found victims on every floor, Nigro said, and many had cardiac arrest and respiratory failure.
The weakened children were given oxygen after being taken out. Some of the fugitives had their faces covered with soot.
Firefighters continued rescuing even after the air supply ran out, Adams said.
“Their oxygen tanks were empty and they were still making their way through the smoke,” he said.
An investigation is underway to determine how the fire spread and whether anything could have been done to prevent or contain the fire, Nigro said.
Large new apartment buildings should have sprinkler systems and interior doors that automatically close to contain smoke and deplete oxygen from fire, but these rules do not apply to thousands of old city buildings.
The building was equipped with a fire alarm, but several residents said they ignored it at first because alarms were common in the 120-apartment building.
The fire has become the deadliest in New York since 1990, when 87 people died when the Happy Land social club, also located in the Bronx, was set on fire. The area was also the site of a fatal apartment building fire in 2017 that killed 13 people and a 2007 heater fire that killed nine people.
The Sunday fire came just days after 12 people, including eight children, died in a house fire in Philadelphia.
Associated Press contributors Michael R. Sisak and Jennifer Peltz from New York and Andrew Selski from Salem, Oregon contributed to this report.