(Trends Wide) — The fire in New York that claimed the lives of at least 17 people this Sunday in the Bronx, according to the authorities, is one of the worst tragedies in the modern history of the city. Dozens of people are in hospital: about half of them with life-threatening injuries. Meanwhile, the facts raise big security questions and the question that seems to haunt investigators: what exactly happened and how? This is what we know.
What started the fire in New York?
A faulty electric heater in a bedroom was the source of the apartment building fire, New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said early Monday.
The five-alarm fire started shortly before 11 a.m. local time and first consumed the bedroom, then the entire duplex apartment on the second and third floors of the 19-story building, Nigro said.
“The heat was on in the building. This (heater) was used to supplement the heat in the building. There were smoke alarms throughout the building. The first call that came in was due to a neighbor hearing the smoke alarm and seeing the smoke that came out called,” he said.
When the residents left the burning unit, the door to the apartment was left open. Which allowed smoke and fire to spread, Nigro said. At least one door was also open from the stairwell to an upper floor, he said.
At least 17 people died, including 8 children, corrected the mayor of New York, Eric Adams, at a press conference on Monday afternoon. The president updated the number of victims, which on Sunday had been reported as 19 deaths, 9 of them children.
“This is a global tragedy because the Bronx in New York is representative of ethnicities and cultures from around the world, so everyone feels the pain of what we are experiencing,” said the mayor.
In addition, 63 people were injured by “severe smoke inhalation,” and 32 were sent to five municipal hospitals in potentially life-threatening conditions, Commissioner Nigro said at a press conference on Sunday.
Hours earlier, Adams told Trends Wide that as multiple people remain in critical condition at multiple hospitals, more lives may be lost.
Commissioner Nigro said victims were found on the stairwells on every floor of the building, many in cardiac arrest, in what the official said could be an unprecedented loss of life. The injuries were predominantly from smoke inhalation, he noted.
Adams had also noted that “this is a horrible, horrible, painful time for New York City. And the impact of this fire is really going to bring a level of pain and despair in our city. He described the displaced people as belonging to a community majority Muslim, with many immigrants from the West African nation of Gambia.
“I thought I had gone blind”: the stories of the survivors of the fire in New York
Daisy Mitchell survived the deadly fire and managed to escape the flames. After the event, she told Trends Wide affiliate WABC, the smoke inside the building was so thick she thought she had gone blind.
“I panicked. I was scared. I was really scared. I was scared. I mean the smoke really hit me,” she said. “By the time I got to the exit and I had the mask on… I couldn’t even see, I thought I was blind, I couldn’t even see. So I was banging on my door to get back in,” she said.
Mitchell is a resident of the building’s 10th floor and had recently moved in. And he added that he had never seen anything like it.
“We are in a building that is burning and you don’t know how you are going to get out”
For her part, Karen Dejesus, also a survivor of the fire, recalled what she saw on Sunday night. Dejesus said she lived in an apartment on the same floor as the fire and was forced to climb out a window to escape the fire.
“I can see the flames, I can see the smoke and everything, you know, coming into my apartment,” Dejesus said. “You’re stuck somewhere. You see, we don’t have any fire escapes. Obviously the building wasn’t as fireproof as we thought.”
“Just the fact that we’re in a building that’s burning and you don’t know how you’re going to get out…” he continued.
Dejesus described a scene in which firefighters broke down her door to get in and rescue her, her granddaughter and her son. They had to climb out a window to escape the flames.
Dejesus shared similar sentiments regarding hearing fire alarms as other survivors.
“A lot of us were used to hearing the fire alarm go off, so it was kind of like business as usual for us,” he said. “Not until I saw the smoke coming through the door did I realize it was a real fire and I heard people yelling ‘help, help, help’.”
clues and investigation
Now, the building’s fire alarms and a series of open doors are on the radar of investigators and officials trying to figure out the fire, the second deadly in the northeastern United States in just a week.
Mayor Adams shared with Trends Wide on Monday that the investigation will include whether the door to the apartment where the fire started worked properly, as well as whether the building’s alarm system operated properly.
“We were told and instructed that there were self-closing doors, we just had to look at the door to that apartment to see if there was any kind of malfunction,” Adams told Trends Wide’s Brianna Keilar on “New Day.” “We cannot make a determination until the fire marshals conduct a thorough investigation.”
“We have a law here in New York that requires doors to close automatically,” he continued. “We also want to double down on that public service announcement that I remember as a kid… lock the doors.”
On Sunday, the day the tragedy occurred, Commissioner Nigro told a news conference that the door to the apartment was not closed when the residents left. “The smoke spread throughout the entire building. Hence the tremendous loss of life and others fighting for their lives right now in hospitals across the Bronx,” he said.
Nigro added that in addition to leaving the door open to the apartment where the fire started, at least one door was open from the stairwell to one of the upper floors.
Part of the investigation will also include why, as one resident said, the smoke alarms were going off frequently, Adams said.
“We’re going to review that system and make sure that the alarm system doesn’t fail repeatedly. And this is a wake-up call for all of our buildings. Do the proper testing and make sure you review complaints of smoke alarms repeatedly going off without smoke.” or live fire. We need to make sure that these systems work because they save lives,” added the mayor.
Asked Sunday whether the building was up to fire code, Mayor Adams said, “I think based on the preliminary report, it was up to the current standard.”
He explained, “These buildings were built before a lot of our new fire codes were put in place. And once we have the report from the fire marshal, we’ll be able to do a comprehensive assessment of what needs to be done and how to move forward.”
The building also has no major construction violations or complaints against the building, which contains 120 units, according to city construction records. Previous minor violations were rectified by the property and no structural violations were listed.
Built in 1972, the building was funded by the federal government, so it may have been built outside of New York City’s fire code, Nigro said. He added that this is unlikely to have been a factor in Sunday’s fire.
Support for New York after devastating fire
President Joe Biden called on New York City Mayor Eric Adams to extend his support Monday as the city reels from the effects of the massive fire.
“Just moments ago, I received a call from President Biden and he made it clear to me that whatever we need, the White House will be there to help us,” said Mayor Adams.
“He just sent a very strong message that this is on everyone’s radar.” He added that “everyone is feeling the pain of what we are experiencing, but I would tell you this and I say it over and over again. We are going to get through this moment.”
With information from Elizabeth Joseph, Laura Studley, Eric Levenson, Susannah Cullinane, Brynn Gingras, Bonney Kapp, and Mirna Alsharif