(Trends Wide) — Both New York City and Philadelphia are mourning horrific building fires in recent days that have left scores of people dead, including several children.
The two fires killed 29 people, 26 of them believed to be children.
Adding to the tragedy are winter temperatures in the region and the raging Covid-19 pandemic, which is straining health systems almost everywhere.
Fire in Fairmont, Philadelphia area leaves 12 dead
Early Wednesday, a fire swept through a crowded Philadelphia apartment building, killing at least 12 people, most of them children.
The victims included three sisters and all but one of their 10 children, a family member told Trends Wide.
Rosalee McDonald, 33; Virginia Thomas, 30, and Quinsha White, 18, were killed, according to their cousins Frank and Pamela McDonald. Six of Rosalee McDonald’s children and three of Thomas’s children also died in the fire. The ages of their children were not given.
“They were both good people, good mothers and very family oriented,” Frank McDonald told Trends Wide. “Rosalee was one of the best people you could ever meet. She was very supportive, they both were. They came to help me with my business when I opened it.”
The building was a three-story house converted into apartments that housed 26 people, according to fire officials.
Bill Richards, who said he has lived on the block for 24 years, told Trends Wide affiliate WPVI that before he found out about the fire, he heard a woman scream, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” “. Then he heard fire trucks and got out.
Neighbors and others, some sobbing, gathered outside as firefighters and police worked the scene Wednesday morning, WPVI reported.
A veteran firefighter called it one of the worst fires he had ever faced.
“It was terrible,” Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said. “I’ve been here for 30 or 35 years and this is probably one of the worst fires I’ve ever been in.”
“This is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city’s history — the loss of so many people in such a tragic way,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday morning. “Losing so many children is just devastating. Please keep these babies in your prayers.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation. One possibility being studied is whether a child under the age of 5 playing with a lighter under a Christmas tree could have started the fire, according to Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
The Bronx fire left 17 victims
In New York’s Bronx, 17 people, including eight children, were killed in a fire that ripped through an apartment building on Sunday. Initially 19 fatalities were reported, but on Monday authorities corrected the figure to 17.
Of the 63 people injured, 32 were hospitalized with life-threatening conditions, New York Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
The fire started in a malfunctioning space heater in a two-story apartment, according to Nigro. Flames consumed that apartment, Nigro said, and then smoke covered the stairwell and people trying to get out.
“The door of that apartment, unfortunately when the residents left, was left open, it did not close by itself. The smoke spread throughout the building, thus the tremendous loss of life and people fighting for their lives right now in hospitals throughout the Bronx,” Nigro said.
There were no fire escapes in the building. About 200 firefighters responded to the blaze and some ran out of oxygen as they tried to get residents out, Nigro said.
Daisy Mitchell, who lived on the 10th floor, told Trends Wide affiliate WABC that she was too scared to leave her apartment.
“I heard people banging on doors saying ‘it’s a fire, it’s a fire’ so I didn’t pay attention to it but then when we opened that door the smoke hit us and we ran into the hallway for the exit and I just panicked. I freaked out, even with the mask on,” Mitchell told Trends Wide affiliate WABC.
Mamadou Wague, who lived in the apartment where the fire started, told WABC that he jumped through the flames to save his daughter.
“We were sleeping and then my kids were screaming fire, fire,” Wague said, according to WABC.
“I don’t want to hear of anybody being killed in this fire, that’s what worries me,” Wague told WABC.
The fire “is going to be one of the worst fires that we have witnessed during modern times here in New York City,” New York Mayor Eric Adams said.
“This is a horrible, horrible, painful time for New York City, and the impact of this fire is really going to bring a fair level of pain and despair in our city,” Adams said.
— Trends Wide’s Elizabeth Joseph, Amir Vera, Laura James, Eric Levenson, Alaa Elassar, Laura Studley, Mark Morales, Laura Dolan, Carll Alvarado, Paul P. Murphy and Taylor Romine contributed to this report.