New York fire kills 8 children, 1 adult

Updated: 2007-03-09 09:14

NEW YORK - Screams poured from the burning building along with smoke and flames: "Help me! Help me! Please! Please!" Bystanders looked up to see a woman toss two children out the window one at a time to those below.

Mamadou Soumare points towards the destroyed building while explaining how he lost three of his children at the scene of a deadly fire in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, March 8, 2007. [AP]
The scene unfolded early Thursday during New York's deadliest fire in nearly two decades - a blaze that killed eight children and one adult, part of an extended family led by African immigrants who shared a row house near Yankee Stadium.

The children tossed from the three-story building survived, authorities said. The woman who threw them jumped but survived.

The fire was sparked by an overheated space heater near a mattress in a basement bedroom, then raced up a stairway pushed by air from broken back windows, said Fire Chief Salvatore Cassano. Most of the 22 residents - 17 of them children - were stranded on the upper floors as the blaze raged for two hours.

"I can't recollect a fire where we lost eight children," Cassano said.

Neighbor Edward Soto ran toward the fire, then stared in disbelief as an infant was tossed from the building.

"All I see is just a big cloud of white dust, and out of nowhere comes the first baby," said Soto, who caught the child while with another neighbor. Moments later, he caught a second child. At least one of the children was not breathing.

Firefighters worked for two hours in freezing predawn temperatures to bring the flames under control. The home had two smoke alarms, but neither had batteries. Police said there was no evidence of a crime.

The dead were found throughout the house, mostly on the upper floors, with babies still in their cribs. The victims included five children from one family, along with a wife and three other children from a second family.

Word of the fire spread grief across two continents, from the Bronx to villages in Mali, a West African country about twice the size of Texas and one of the poorest nations in the world.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," said a devastated Mamadou Soumare, a livery cabdriver whose wife, son and 7-month-old twins died in the blaze. "I love her. I love my wife."

Soumare was driving through Harlem when he received a frantic cell phone call from his wife, Fatoumata, who relatives said died in the fire. "She said, `We have a fire,'" Soumare recalled. "She was screaming."

Soumare rushed home in his cab, only to helplessly watch as their home turned into a fiery tomb.

Moussa Magassa, an official of the New York chapter of the High Council for Malians Living Abroad, was headed back to the city from a business trip to Mali after receiving the grim news that nearly half of his 11 children were dead, said council representative Bourema Niambele.

"He's the best in our community," said Imam Mahamadou Soukouna, a Muslim cleric and family friend. "It's very, very, very sad what has happened to us today."

Magassa arrived in New York about 15 years ago, friends said. One neighbor said Magassa and Mamadou Soumare were brothers. Fatoumata Soumare was from the village of Tasauirga and left Mali for the Bronx about six years ago, friends said.

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