At least 19 people were killed Sunday after a fire broke out at an apartment building in the Bronx, New York City, authorities said.
“This is going to be one of the worst fires we have witnessed here in modern times in the city of New York,” the city’s new mayor, Eric Adams, said at a press conference.
The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) said the fire started just before 1100 local time [1600 GMT] on Sunday. It began on the second and third floors of a building on East 181st Street and about 200 firefighters responded to the blaze and managed to contain the flames at around 1 p.m., NBC New York reported.
Sixty-three people were left injured, including 32 who were sent to hospitals with life-threatening injuries. FDNY officials confirmed to reporters that at least 19 people including nine children died from injuries sustained in the blaze.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro at a press conference on Sunday said firefighters were “met in the hallway with this fire – very heavy smoke, very heavy fire.”
“This smoke extended the entire height of the building – completely unusual. Members found victims on every floor, in stairways,” he said.
He explained that a malfunctioning electric space heater caused the fire, adding that the fire quickly expanded because a door in the two-level second-floor unit where the blaze started was either left open or did not automatically close after residents fled, NBC News reported.
“The marshals have determined through physical evidence, through firsthand accounts from the residents, that this fire started in a bedroom in a portable electric heater,” Nigro said. Victims suffered from severe smoke inhalation, he added.
The blaze grew to five alarms and sent many people to the hospital. At least 20 of the fire victims were originally transported to St. Barnabas Hospital. Nine from that group died, including two children, News 4 New York reported. Eleven patients were still at that hospital Sunday afternoon, the report added. Two more patients died at Jacobi Medical Center. Officials were yet to disclose their ages. That hospital had received 19 patients, five were still in critical condition Sunday evening, according to News 4 New York.
The names and ages of victims of the Bronx fire have not been disclosed by officials, however, many of the residents of the apartment building were African immigrants. Mayor Adams said the building was home to many Muslims from Gambia.
The 120-unit building in the Twin Parks North West complex was built in 1973 as part of a project to build modern, affordable housing in the Bronx, Independent reported. Many of the building’s residents who were practicing Muslims had chosen the building largely due to its closeness to local mosques and the fact that it was home to their fellow Africans.
Mayor Adams said their cultural and religious needs will be respected, particularly with regards to burial rites. Gov. Kathy Hochul said there are plans to set up a victims’ compensation fund that will help provide new housing and pay for burials and other costs, The New York Times reported.
“Tonight is a night of tragedy and pain, and tomorrow we begin to rebuild,” she said. “We rebuild their lives and give them hope. Especially those who came all the way from Africa. Gambians in search of a better life right here in this great borough, the borough of the Bronx. They’re part of our family.”
A man known as Hassane Badr, with a family of about 11 people from Mali, lived in a three-bedroom apartment on the third floor. He told The New York Times that two siblings, both children, have died in the fire while a 25-year-old cousin was yet to be found.
Mayor Adams said Sunday that anyone trying to track down family and friends who may have been in the apartment building can call 311.
Meanwhile, Salim Drammeh, the president of the Gambian Youth Organization, said that the nonprofit was collecting donations and providing support to the community.