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FDNY: Smoke caused deaths in Bronx fire

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-01-11 11:05
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Broken windows are seen at a Bronx apartment building a day after a fire swept through the complex killing at least 19 people and injuring dozens of others, many of them seriously in New York City on Jan 10, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

A door to an apartment where a fire was started by a malfunctioning electric space heater and the door to a stairwell were left open, allowing smoke to billow through all floors of a 19-story building in New York City, trapping people who sought to escape and killing 17, including eight children, fire officials said.

New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said that the door in the Bronx apartment and the door to a stairwell on the 15th floor were "not functioning as they should''.

"The fire was contained to the hallway just outside this two-story apartment, but the smoke traveled throughout the building, and the smoke is what caused the deaths and the serious injuries,'' he said.

Victims were found on every floor, some in hallways and stairwells, Nigro said. The children who died were ages 4 to 12. Firefighters carried out limp children and gave them oxygen and continued making rescues even after their air supplies ran out.

More than 60 others were injured in the fire, and 32 people were hospitalized, in the city's deadliest blaze in more than three decades, officials said. Nigro said that many are still "fighting for their lives".

Officials initially said Sunday that 19 people were killed in the fire, but New York City Mayor Eric Adams revised the number to 17 at a news conference on Monday.

The fire began at 11 am Sunday in a duplex apartment on the second and third floor where a family was using the portable space heater for extra warmth, according to the FDNY. Firefighters arrived three minutes after the blaze began and quickly contained the fire.

"The investigation continues … but we are certain the fire started with a faulty portable electrical heater," Nigro said.

The building was built in 1972, and there were 365 occupants in the high-rise that offers affordable housing. It has no fire escapes. Newer buildings in the city must have sprinkler systems and interior doors that automatically shut to contain smoke.

The building had smoke alarms, but residents told The Associated Press that they initially ignored them because they went off frequently.

FDNY investigators tested most of the doors in the building on Sunday, fire department officials said, and most were found to have automatically closed properly. However, the door at the apartment where the fire started — and doors at a handful of other units — didn't close as designed, the officials said.

Adams described the fire as an "unspeakable tragedy" at a press conference.

He said that he and New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks had visited four schools that the deceased children had attended and heard about them. Banks said his heart broke as teachers spoke about them.

Adams said he received a call from President Joe Biden and "he has made it clear that whatever we need, the White House is going to be there for us".

But Adams vowed: "We're going to get through this moment and we're going to get through it together. This tragedy is not going to define us. It is going to show our resiliency as we help the families through this.

"To every grieving family, 8.8 million New Yorkers see you as their family members, and we are here together to push through this," he said.

The mayor said that the entire community was receiving support from across the country and internationally. including from the Dominican Republic and Gambia in West Africa, where some of the building's residents are from.

Dawda Fadera, Gambian ambassador to the US said: "The majority of the victims have their roots in the Gambia. Our country is in a state of shock."

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