Bronx fire: Boy (3) had ‘history of fiddling with stove’

Four children among those killed in deadliest blaze in New York for nearly 30 years

Twelve people were killed, including an infant, and four were critically injured in a fire that swept through several floors of an apartment building in the New York City borough of the Bronx. Video: Reuters

 

A three-year-old boy playing with the burners on a kitchen stove started a fire in a New York apartment building that killed 12 people, including four children, city officials said on Friday. The child had a history of fiddling with the stove in his family’s first-floor apartment, his mother told officials investigating the deadliest fire in the city since 1990.

A little before midnight GMT on Thursday, the child, who had been left unattended in the kitchen, started screaming as it filled with smoke and fire, Daniel Nigro, the city’s fire department commissioner, said. His mother grabbed him and his younger sibling, running outside to safety and leaving the apartment door open.

“The stairway acted like a chimney,” Mr Nigro said. The blaze swept out the apartment doorway to higher floors of the five-story building, fanned by fresh oxygen each time frightened tenants flung open windows. “People had very little time to react,” he said. “They couldn’t get back down the stairs. Those that tried perished.”

Children aged one, two and seven as well as a boy whose age was not known died, along with four men and four women, according to the New York Police Department.

The apartment building in the Bronx where at least 12 people were killed, including a one-year-old child, after a fire broke out. Photograph: Alba Vigaray/EPA
The apartment building in the Bronx where at least 12 people were killed, including a one-year-old child, after a fire broke out. Photograph: Alba Vigaray/EPA

“Children starting fires is not rare,” Mr Nigro said. He emphasised that young children should not be left unattended, and those fleeing apartment fires should always shut doors behind them once the last person is out. Authorities said firefighters rescued 12 people from the building and four people were in the hospital in critical condition.

Cold snap

More than 160 firefighters responded to the blaze, the first arriving about three minutes after emergency calls came in. About 20 people were already on fire escapes, Mr Nigro said. New York city is going through a bitter cold snap, with temperatures in the minus teens and high winds. At least 14 families were homeless, and four of them were taken to hotels, according to the American Red Cross.

“There’s still around 10 families we have not connected with yet,” said Michael de Vulpillieres, a Red Cross spokesman. Red Cross representatives stationed on the block offered blankets and smoke alarm installations to residents. Firefighters sifted through the charred interior of the building, but the exterior showed little damage and the red fire escapes were intact. Shards of glass and chunks of ice littered the sidewalk outside.

Firefighters at the scene. Photograph: Alba Vigaray/EPA
Firefighters at the scene. Photograph: Alba Vigaray/EPA

Code violations

The building, with 26 apartments, has at least six open building code violations, according to city records. One violation was for a broken smoke detector in an apartment on the first floor, reported in August.

“I know there were concerns raised about the building itself,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC. “Based on the research we have at this moment, it does not appear there was anything problematic about the building or the fire safety in the building.”

New York Fire Department ladder trucks at the fire in the Bronx. Photograph: FDNY/Handout via Reuters
New York Fire Department ladder trucks at the fire in the Bronx. Photograph: FDNY/Handout via Reuters

The building is in the Belmont section of the Bronx, a primarily residential, close-knit neighbourhood known as the Little Italy of the borough, near Fordham University and the Bronx Zoo.

It was the deadliest fire in the city since an arsonist torched a Bronx nightclub in 1990, killing 87 people inside the venue, which did not have fire exits, alarms or sprinklers, the New York Times reported. In 2007, 10 immigrants from Mali, including nine children, died after a space heater caught fire in a Bronx building. – Reuters