At least 19 people, including nine children, were killed Sunday when a horrific fire apparently sparked by a space-heater filled a Bronx high-rise with thick smoke after the door to the apartment where the blaze began remained open.
“This is going to be one of the worst fires we have witnessed in modern times here in the City of New York,” Mayor Eric Adams said of the “horrific” and “painful” incident at a news conference Sunday afternoon.
Mayor Adams confirmed nine children among the dead in a second Sunday afternoon press conference.
“This fire began in an apartment that spans two floors, on the second and third floors of the building. It started in a malfunctioning electric space heater; that was the cause of the fire,” FDNY Commissioner Dan Nigro confirmed in the second press conference.
“The fire consumed that apartment that is on two floors and part of the hallway. The door to 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 other people fighting for their lives right now all over the Bronx,” he added.
Governor Kathy Hochul stood by Adams’ side during the latter press conference and promised to establish a victims’ fund to provide victims of the fire with the assistance they need for funerals, housing, and more.
Senator Chuck Schumer also pledged to do whatever possible at the federal level to help.
On Sunday, first responders arrived within three minutes of receiving a call about a fire that had engulfed a duplex apartment on East 181st Street in Fordham Heights, the commissioner said. About 200 members of the New York City Fire Department had responded to the blaze around 11 a.m. local time.
Firefighters were initially met with “very heavy smoke and very heavy fire” when they reached the first hallway engulfed in flames, Nigro added. “This smoke extended the entire height of the building,” he said, calling the occurrence “completely unusual.”
Nigro said firefighters retrieved victims from all floors of the building, many of which were suffering cardiac and respiratory arrest due to smoke inhalation. The fire was knocked down shortly before 1 p.m. local time.
Officials say at least 32 people were taken to at least five Bronx hospitals with life-threatening injuries, while another nine were serious. At least 22 other people suffered non-life-threatening injuries from the blaze. One member of service was taken to the hospital for an undisclosed reason as well.
“This is indeed tragic,” Nigro told reporters at Sunday’s earlier news conference. The last time New York City experienced this level of devastation from a fire, he noted, was the Happy Land social club arson incident in 1990, which also occurred in the Bronx.
Sunday’s fire remains under investigation but currently “does not appear suspicious,” per Nigro.
“We’ve spread the word: Close the door. Close the door. If you leave your apartment, the door should close behind you automatically, but it doesn’t always. But if you close the door, the smoke and fire spread is contained within that apartment instead of spreading out into the hall and up the stairs, and that’s what happened here, again,” he reiterated.
Governor Kathy Hochul said in a tweet Sunday that “the entire State of New York stands” with N.Y.C.
“I am horrified by the devastating fire in the Bronx today,” wrote the governor, 63. “My heart is with the loved ones of all those we’ve tragically lost, all of those impacted and with our heroic @FDNY firefighters.”
I am horrified by the devastating fire in the Bronx today.
My heart is with the loved ones of all those we’ve tragically lost, all of those impacted and with our heroic @FDNY firefighters.
The entire State of New York stands with New York City.
— Kathy Hochul (@GovKathyHochul) January 9, 2022
The American Red Cross has stepped in to help assist victims of the fire, city officials confirmed.
“We are going to do everything we can to bring services on the ground here to give them the assistance they need as we all recover from the trauma of what we are witnessing here in the buildings behind us,” Adams said during Sunday’s news conference.
This is a developing story.