An immigrant father has revealed he leaped through flames to save his eight children from their blazing apartment after a faulty space heater set it alight and tore through the Bronx block killing killing nine children and ten adults.
Exclusive photographs taken by DailyMail.com reveal what remains of the family unit after the fire engulfed their duplex at 333 East 181st Street, at 11am on Sunday.
Mamadou Wague, who lived in Unit 3N with his wife and children, recalled how he was woken by his children screaming ‘fire’ and then found his eight-year-old daughter, Nafisha, screaming and trapped on a burning mattress in her bedroom.
‘I just grab her and run,’ the west African immigrant told the New York Times. ‘I didn’t think about anything except getting her out.’
Wague, 47, pulled his daughter from the burning bed, suffering burns to his lips and nose, and escaped the unit with his family. Nafisha sustained burns but is alive.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Negro said that the fire spread so rapidly because Mr Wague left his apartment door open as he fled for his life with his kids.
However, Andrew Ansbro, president of the FDNY Uniformed Firefighters Association Union, said the 49-year-old building was poorly equipped to deal with a fire.
‘It was at a building that was built under federal guidelines way back when, so it’s not up to New York City fire codes,’ he told the New York Daily News.
It has no fire escapes and stairwells meant to be used as emergency exits quickly filled with smoke, along with floors where stairwell doors were left open.
Large, new apartment buildings in the city are required to have sprinkler systems and interior doors that swing shut automatically to contain smoke and deprive fires of oxygen, however those rules don’t apply to older buildings.
Many residents ignored the fire alarms when they went off on Sunday because they hear the so frequently for false alarms.
‘First we heard the fire alarm go off. Numerous times,’ said Michael Joseph, 32, who lived on the sixth floor with his uncle.
‘But we didn’t think nothing of it, because normally people in the building, they smoke and tend to set it off. So we thought it was probably just people playing.’
The apartment complex was purchased for $24,675,000 in 2020 by a group of investors, including Camber Property Group. Rick Gropper, a co-founder and principal at Camber, was one of the nearly 800 individuals named last month to new Mayor Eric Adams’ transition team.
Pope Francis offered his condolences Monday to the victims of the ‘devastating’ apartment fire. In a telegram sent to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan he offered ‘heartfelt condolences and the assurance of his spiritual closeness’ to those affected by the blaze.
The fire at Twin Parks North West complex in the Bronx broke out in Unit 3N, where the nine-person Wague family resided. Their residence is pictured Monday, covered in ash and debris
The Wague family’s apartment is seen completely destroyed. Father Mamadou Wague said the blaze left his eight-year-old daughter trapped in her bedroom on a mattress engulfed in flames. He pulled his daughter out of the flames and managed to escape
The blaze is unit 3N was caused by a faulty space heater
The entire unit was damaged by the blaze
Wague said he was asleep when the fire broke out, recalling how his kids alerted him to the blaze: ‘One of the kids said, ‘”Oh, Daddy! Daddy! There’s a fire!”’
‘I get up and there’s smoke in the kids’ rooms.’
Smoke had filled the now ash-covered unit.
‘It was dark,’ his son, Hame Wague, 16, told the newspaper. ‘We were all coughing.’
Although his entire family survived the blaze, the tragedy left Wague stricken with grief.
‘I don’t want anybody life — I don’t want to hear anybody dead in this fire, that’s what I worry about,’ he told ABC 7 shortly after his rescue.
The five-alarm blaze is New York City’s deadliest in three decades.
Although the flames only damaged a small portion of the building, smoke escaped through the Wague family’s open door and flooded the stairwells – the only method of escape as the building was too tall for fire escapes – with ash.
Some people could not escape because of the volume of smoke, while others became incapacitated as they tried to flee. Several residents said the fire alarms in the building are always going off so they ignored them.
Although there there have not been any major building violations or complaints listed against the building, according to city building records, however it was reportedly not up to code.
Public records show the building has open violations for cockroach and mouse infestations, lead paint and water leaks, however no structural violations were listed. The New York Post reported there were more than two dozen violations and complaints at the building since 2013 – despite $25 million in state loans for repairs.
Investigators determined a malfunctioning electric space heater started the fire in the 19-story building, leaving victims on ‘every floor.’
The inferno, caused by a faulty space heater, started in Unit 3N, where the Wague family lived. Investigators are still trying to determine how the blaze spread, however NYC Mayor Eric Adams said it appears the smoke spread due to a door that was supposed to automatically close being open
Mamadou Wague said he was asleep when the fire broke out, recalling how his kids alerted him to the blaze: ‘One of the kids said, ‘”Oh, Daddy! Daddy! There’s a fire!”’
New York City’s worst fire disaster in more than 30 years that broke out on the second and third floor of a building at 333 East 181st Street in the Bronx has killed nine children and ten adults (pictured, people jump to safety from the burning building)
FDNY commissioner Daniel Nigro said that ‘very heavy’ fire and smoke ‘extended the entire height of the building’ and confirmed that a space heater caused the blaze. Firefighters were pictured rescuing residents from the blaze early on Sunday
Some of the broken windows from a fire where a space heater caught fire and caused the devastation in the Bronx
Some of the items that caught on fire in apartment 3N
Nine children were among at least 19 people killed and 63 injured in Sunday’s inferno. Dozens of residents were hospitalized, several in critical condition, and doctors were continuing efforts to save victims live on Monday.
The mayor said it’s likely the death toll could rise.
‘We pray to God that they’ll be able to pull through,’ Mayor Adams said during a CNN interview Monday morning.
At least 200 firefighters responded to the scene, some arriving within minutes of the initial call for help. As they entered the building, the first responders were met with flames in the hallway.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said an investigation was underway to determine how the fire spread and whether anything could have been done to prevent or contain the blaze.
Adams said it appears the smoke spread due to a door that was supposed to automatically close being open.
‘There may have been a maintenance issue with this door. And that is going to be part of the .. ongoing investigation,’ Adams said on Good Morning America.
The mayor said the fire crews continued rescue measures even after running out of oxygen.
‘Their oxygen tanks were empty and they still pushed through the smoke,’ he explained, noting that icy conditions made it difficult for firefighters to put out the blaze.
Firemen stand at the scene of a fire at a multi-level apartment building in the Bronx on Monday
Workers clean up at the scene of a fire at a multi-level apartment building in the Bronx on Monday
‘The impact of this fire is going to really bring a level of pain and despair in this city,’ Adams said during a press conference early on Sunday, shortly after the blaze was extinguished.
‘The numbers are horrific. We have over 32 people who are life-threatening at this time. This is going to be one of the worst fires we have witnessed in the City of New York in modern times.’
Sunday’s blaze came just days after a Philadelphia house fire killed 12 people, including eight children.
That was the deadliest fire at a U.S. residential apartment building since 2017, when 13 people died in an apartment in the Bronx, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association.
That fire started after a three-year-old boy was playing with stove burners.
The deadliest fire prior to that was in 1989 when a Tennessee apartment building fire claimed the lives of 16 people.
NEW YORK CITY’S DEADLIEST FIRE DISASTERS
At least 19 people died on Sunday when a five-alarm fire erupted in a 19-story building in the Bronx.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro and Mayor Eric Adams described the fire as ‘NYC’s worst in 30 decades. ‘The impact of this fire is going to really bring a level of pain and despair in this city,’ Adams said.
We’re taking a look at some of the worst fire disasters in the recent history of the Big Apple.
March 25, 1990/West Farms, The Bronx – Eighty-seven people died trapped in the Happy Land social club after an unemployed refugee, whose girlfriend worked at the club, set the base of the staircase – the only point of access to the club – on fire with $1 worth of gasoline.
Bodies are covered along the sidewalk in front of the Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx following a fire in the windowless-second floor room
The charred facade of the Happy Land social club in the Bronx section of New York City is pictured in 1990
December 28, 2017/ Belmont, The Bronx – A fire in the Belmont apartment of the Bronx killed 13 people and injured 14 others. At the time it became New York City’s deadliest fire in 25 years. It erupted when a 3-year-old played with the burners of the fire stove on the first floor of the building. As the mother desperately removed her children from the apartment, she accidentally left the door open, allowing the fire to spread.
A fire Department of New York (FDNY) personnel works on the scene of an apartment fire is in the Bronx borough of New York City is seen on December 29, 2017
March 7, 2007/Highbridge, The Bronx– The fire was started by a space heater’s electrical cord. it killed nine children and one adult. The building owner lost his five children. Another man lost his wife and four children.
Fire department and police vehicles sit at the scene of a 3-alarm blaze that claimed the lives of 9 people, including 8 children, in an apartment building Thursday, March 8, 2007
Charred wreckage sits piled at the scene of blaze that claimed the lives of 9 people, including 8 children, in a 4-story apartment building Thursday, March 8, 2007
April 23, 2017/ Queens Village, Queens– The fire at 112-16 208th St in Queens Village killed five people, including four children. A person driving by spotted the flames and alerted police. The fire was raised to three alarms before being stopped.
New York Fire Department personnel stand outside the scene of a deadly fire Sunday, April 23, 2017, in Queens Village in New York
October 4, 2015/Borough Park, Brooklyn – An intentional building explosion and fire in Brooklyn left two dead and eight injured after a tenant who was late on rent poured gasoline in the stairwell of the three-story building.
View of 13th Avenue and damaged cars in front of burned out storefront