The deadly fire broke out at 11 a.m. in an apartment on the lower floors. The residents apparently left the front door open when they fled, causing flames and smoke to quickly spread throughout the Bronx borough apartment building. Late on Sunday evening, the New York fire department then expressed their first suspicion: the fire was probably caused by a broken fan heater. At least 17 people died, including eight children. 63 people were taken to five nearby hospitals with burns and smoke inhalation on Sunday. Many of them are still in critical condition.
“These numbers are horrifying,” said Mayor Eric Adams, “this is one of the worst fires we’ve seen in the city in recent memory.” Now the flags in New York are to remain at half-mast until Wednesday evening.
Just under a week ago, twelve people died in a house fire in Philadelphia, including eight children. The suspected cause of the fire in this case was that one of the children had been playing with a lighter near the Christmas tree. As in New York, the fire broke out in an area where mostly poor people live.
There are many buildings in the Bronx like the one now affected on East 181st Street. It’s 19 stories high, built in 1972, and has 120 units ranging from four-bedrooms to tiny studios. Most of these apartments are subsidized by the city. For many people, this is the only chance of finding a reasonably affordable apartment on the brutal New York rental market. The price for this is that security is not always the best in these buildings. In any case, it is probably no coincidence that such cases do not occur in affluent neighborhoods such as Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but in the Bronx, where many immigrants live.
Almost exactly four years ago, in December 2017, 13 people died in a fire in a residential building in the Bronx. At the time, it was the deadliest fire in New York in a quarter of a century. The authorities then identified the cause of the fire as a three-year-old child playing around with a gas stove.
The fire is known to have started in a two-story apartment located on the second and third floors of the building. A city employee, who wanted to remain anonymous because of the ongoing investigation into the cause of the fire, said New York Times, the fire brigade assumes that the electric space heating has been in operation for several days without interruption. The broken heater triggered the fire, according to fire chief Daniel Nigro.
The open door then probably caused the rapid spread. Nigro said on Sunday: “Again and again we say: close the door, close the door to curb the spread of the fire!” In fact, many people living in New York receive an email once a year telling them what to do in the event of a fire. Closing the doors is always emphasized.
Firefighters find victims on every floor
According to their own statements, the fire brigade was at the building after three minutes on Sunday. Although around 200 firefighters were on duty, it took nearly four hours to extinguish all the flames. According to Mayor Adams, firefighters continued to search for survivors even after they had run out of oxygen.
Videos on social media showed images of thick smoke billowing through shattered windows. Residents were taken out of the house via ladders. Fire chief Nigro said his people found victims on every floor. Some would have suffered heart attacks, some severe smoke inhalation.
A father who ran back to his burning apartment after realizing one of his daughters wasn’t with the family burned himself loudly New York Times nose and lips. After all, the eight-year-old daughter and father survived.
Another resident of the building said he heard people fleeing shouting, “Help, help, help.” While his children were unharmed, his neighbor’s children were killed in the fire. He usually takes them all to school every morning, but this will never happen again. “What am I going to tell my kids now?” he said through tears. “Tomorrow is a school day, they will ask me where their friends are.”
Mayor Adams has promised he will be there for the victims of the fire
Oswald Feliz, the local city councilman, said it hit “the poorest New Yorkers.” These would now not only face the problem of finding new apartments, but apartments whose rents are controlled by the city in the same way. In fact, there are fewer and fewer of them. Anyone who has found an apartment in New York at a rent set by the city usually never moves out again.
What might give hope to residents of the burned building: It is owned by Camber Property Group. This specializes in creating affordable housing for people with little money. So the owners aren’t some of the most brutal New York real estate sharks who raise the rent every time the wind changes direction.
For Mayor Adams, who took office just a few days ago, the fire in the Bronx is the first major test. He has promised that he will be there for the victims of the fire. He will ensure that they find suitable and affordable housing again. A promise that will not be easy to keep in New York, whose real estate market is already at its limit again despite the aftermath of the pandemic.