New York City is in mourning today after a fire caused deadly smoke to engulf a Bronx area high-rise apartment building on Sunday, killing at least 19 people including nine children and injuring dozens of others.
Officials are saying a malfunctioning space heater, which was being used to supplement heating in a duplex apartment on the second and third floors of the building, is to blame for the deadly blaze.
“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,” New York city fire department commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters.
Fire damage was confined to a single apartment and an adjacent hallway however the door to the apartment and a door to a stairwell had been left open allowing smoke from the fire to spread quickly throughout the building.
Approximately 200 fire department officials were deployed to tackle the 11 am blaze.
Of the 19 people who lost their lives nine of them were children all under the age of 16.
At least 13 people are hospitalized in critical condition and more than 60 others have been injured. Firefighters found victims of the blaze on every floor of the building many in cardiac and respiratory arrest, said Mr. Nigro adding that many could not escape due to the sheer volume of smoke.
Smoke alarms ignored
Survivors of the blaze are saying that many disregarded the smoke alarms when they went off because of numerous false alarms in the building in the past.
Once alerted to the fire many attempted to navigate smoke darkened hallways in a bid to escape the building.
Luis Rosa, a survivor of the fire, told the Associated Press (AP), “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,” adding that, “All we could do was wait.”
The fire was the deadliest to strike the city in over three decades.
One of New York’s deadliest fires occurred on March 25, 1990 when a fire was deliberately set at the Happy Land social club, also in the Bronx, killing 87 people.
The fire was set by Julio Gonzalez whose former girlfriend was employed at the club. Victims of the fire were mostly young Hondurans celebrating Carnival. Gonzalez was convicted of murder and arson and died in jail while serving his sentence.
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
New York’s deadliest fire occurred on March 25, 1911 when a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in Greenwich Village.
The fire resulted in the deaths of 146 garment workers, 123 women and girls and 23 men, who died either from the fire, smoke inhalation, or by falling or jumping to their deaths from the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch building located near Washington Square Park.
The high death toll was partially blamed on the garment factories practice of locking stairwells and exits to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks and to reduce thefts.
At the time, the Fire Marshall concluded that the blaze was likely caused by the improper disposal of a match or cigarette butt in a scrap bin. Another theory, that a New York Times article suggested at the time, was that the fire may have been started by engines running sewing machines.