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.
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.
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 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
"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
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
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