New York fire: Eight children among 17 dead in Bronx apartment fire

ITV US Correspondent Emma Murphy reports on how the worst fire seen in New York for three decades unfolded with deadly and devastating consequences

Eight children are among 17 to have been killed in an apartment fire in New York City, in what the city’s fire commissioner called one of the worst in recent memory.

Children as young as four years old were killed as a result of Sunday's blaze, which was caused by a malfunctioning portable heater.

Mayor Eric Adams called the fire in the Bronx an “unspeakable tragedy”, as doctors raced to save survivors of the city's deadliest fire in three decades.

Sunday's fire broke out in an apartment that spans the second and third floors of the Bronx apartment block. Credit: AP

“This tragedy is not going to define us,” Mr Adams said at a news conference near the scene. “It is going to show our resiliency.” Mr Adams lowered the death toll, saying that two fewer people were killed than originally thought.

Hassane Badr told The New York Times that two of his siblings, both children, were killed and that a 25-year-old cousin remained unaccounted for.

“I’m thinking like I’m dreaming, this is not true. You hear people crying, my goodness,” Badr, 28, told the newspaper. “To be honest, I’m not believing it right now.”

Mahamadou Toure struggled to put his grief into words outside the hospital emergency room where his 5-year-old daughter and the girl’s teenage brother died, according to the Daily News.

Firefighters work outside the apartment building in the Bronx. Credit: AP

Investigators determined that a malfunctioning electric space heater, plugged in on a cold morning, started the fire in the 19-story building. The door of the apartment was left open, allowing smoke to quickly spread throughout the building, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

Investigators are looking into whether a door malfunctioned.

Some residents, trapped in their apartments, broke windows for air and stuffed wet towels under their doors.

One man rescued by firefighters said he'd become numb to fire alarms because of frequent false alarms.

Some residents “could not escape because of the volume of smoke,” Nigro said.

Firefighters “found victims on every floor and were taking them out in cardiac and respiratory arrest,” he said, calling it “unprecedented.”

Firefighters work outside the apartment building in the Bronx where 19 people died Credit: AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura

According to the FDNY, approximately 200 firefighters responded to the scene at the Bronx’s Twin Park apartments, a 19-storey building on East 181st Street.

Nigro compared the severity of the fire to the Happy Land social club fire, which killed 87 people in 1990 when a man set fire to the building after getting into an argument with his former girlfriend and being thrown out of the club.

The majority of victims were suffering from severe smoke inhalation. Credit: AP

According to Nigro, Sunday’s fire originated in a duplex apartment spanning the second and third floors.

Firefighters found the door to the apartment open, he said, which apparently allowed the fire to accelerate and spread smoke upward quickly.

Large, new apartment buildings are required to have sprinkler systems and interior doors that swing shut automatically to contain smoke and deprive fires of oxygen, but those rules do not apply to thousands of the city’s older buildings.

The building was equipped with smoke alarms, but several residents said they initially ignored them because alarms were so common in the 120-unit building.

“So many of us were used to hearing that fire alarm go off, it was like second nature to us,” resident Karen Dejesus said.

The fire is not believed to be suspicious in origin but the cause is under investigation.

It comes just days after a house fire in Philadelphia left 12 people, including eight children, dead.