Sunday 9 December 2018

Boy (3) playing with stove sparked off inferno in New York apartment building that left 12 people dead

People react near the scene of an apartment fire in the Bronx, New York, yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
People react near the scene of an apartment fire in the Bronx, New York, yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

Nick Allen and  David Millward

A child playing with a stove caused New York's deadliest fire in almost 30 years, leaving 12 people dead, including a baby.

The three-year-old child survived when his mother swept him away from the rising smoke in the kitchen and out into safety with his younger sibling.

But the fire quickly spread up the block - with the stairway acting "like a chimney", according to investigators - killing 12 people, aged from one to 50.

Kimberly Wilkins, an eyewitness, said: "People were screaming... 'Fire! Help! Fire! Help!'"

New York Police Department personnel work at the scene. Photo: Kena BetancurAFP/Getty Imageslast
New York Police Department personnel work at the scene. Photo: Kena BetancurAFP/Getty Imageslast

The one-year-old girl died along with her mother as they tried to shelter in a bathtub, investigators said.

Two young girls aged two and seven, and a boy whose age was not known, were also among the dead.

The fire broke out at 7pm on Thursday in a building with 26 flats near the Bronx Zoo, a popular tourist attraction.

Firefighters were on the scene within three minutes, but the blaze spread rapidly, fuelled by strong winds.

More than 160 firefighters took three hours to control the blaze as water leaking from hoses froze on the pavement due to the extreme cold.

Authorities said firefighters rescued 12 people from the building and four people were in the hospital in critical condition.

Bill de Blasio, the New York City mayor, called it an "unspeakable tragedy".

He added: "What we think at this point is that unfortunately it emanated from an accident; a young child playing with a stove on the first floor of the building. Here in the Bronx there are families that have been torn apart."

New York City Fire Department commissioner Daniel Nigro said the fire began on the first floor, and residents said they were surprised at how quickly the flames spread in the nearly century-old residence.

One man, Jamal Flicker, told the 'New York Post': "The smoke was crazy, people screaming, 'Get out!' I heard a woman yelling, 'We're trapped! Help'."

Due to where the fire started, investigators said it blocked the main stairwell in the building, one of the major escape routes.

Another witness, Xanral Collins, said: "A father ran into the building, he couldn't get in," Collins said. "I saw him screaming, 'My babies are dead! My babies are dead!'"

The fire was brought under control, with photos showing neither smoke nor flames late last night, although windows on the upper floors were blackened and had been smashed.

Mr Nigro said "people died on various floors of the apartment" and confirmed the investigation would continue.

Though the building was not new enough to require state-of-the-art fire and smoke detection or a sprinkler system, it was still subject to minimum building codes of the city.

According to records from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the building had at least one open violation "involving a defective carbon monoxide detector, and a faulty smoke detector in a unit on its first floor", according to the 'New York Post'.

The violation had been reported back in August 2017. However, it remains unknown at this time what, if any, actions were taken by building owners - listed as D&A Equities - to remedy the problem.

One violation was for a broken smoke detector in an apartment on the first floor, reported in August. It was not clear if the detector had been fixed or replaced or whether it had played any role in the fire.

"The building owner, building management is supposed to make sure that all those basic safety precautions are in place, and this is an older building," Mr De Blasio told CNN, adding that fire investigators will need more time to look into the incident.

Speaking on a city radio station, he said the fire appeared to be "accidental from everything we can see".

"In the middle of the holiday season, a time when families are together, tonight here in the Bronx there are families that have been torn apart," said Mr de Blasio said. "This is the worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city in at least a quarter-century.

"Based on the information we have now, this will rank as one of the worst losses of life to a fire in many, many years."

The number of civilian fire fatalities in New York City last year dropped to 48, the fewest in the 100 years since record-keeping began, the FDNY said on its website.

It was the deadliest fire in the city since an arsonist torched a Bronx nightclub in 1990, killing 87 people inside the venue that did not have fire exits, alarms or sprinklers, 'The New York Times' reported.

Meanwhile, at least 14 people were killed when fire tore through a rooftop restaurant in Mumbai yesterday.

Many of the victims were young women attending a birthday party. Doctors said they died of asphyxiation, apparently as they tried to flee the burning building. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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