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A “malfunctioning space heater” ignited a devastating fire in the Bronx on Sunday morning. The blaze swept through a 50 year old apartment complex, killing at least 19, including 9 children.
In a press conference Sunday, NYC Mayor Eric Adams called it “one of the worst fires” in the city’s history.
According to the New York Times, the fire itself remained largely contained in one area of the building, but smoke spread quickly due to an open door. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro called conditions “unprecedented” and said smoke filled all 19 floors of the building when firefighters arrived.
Mayor Adams hailed firefighters as heroes, saying they continued working to save residents even after running out of air supply.
“Their oxygen tanks were empty and they still pushed through the smoke,” Adams told reporters, according to AP News.
Residents of the building recount harrowing stories of breaking windows and navigating dark hallways to survive.
Dana Campbell told the New York Times she was at work when the first started. Her children called to say there was smoke coming into the apartment. Campbell rushed home and saw neighbors helping her children jump from their third story window onto a mattress below.
Blaze is second devastating fire to strike the borough in 4 years
The neighborhood where the fire took place is one of the most economically disadvantaged in the city, according to data from justicemap.org. The building, which was home to a largely Muslim and African immigrant population from Gambia in West Africa, likely did not have sprinkler systems. Many residents told local media that they ignored the fire alarm at first because it often malfunctioned and sounded when there was no emergency.
The fire came just over four years after a blaze tore through another apartment complex less than a mile away. That building in the Belmont neighborhood also reportedly had faulty smoke detectors. Thirteen people died in that disaster, including two teenagers and three children.
Democratic Congressman Richie Torres whose district includes the location of the Bronx, said the federal government could mandate certain safety standards for these apartments.
“There are many housing developments in the Bronx, and elsewhere in the city, that lack what I would consider modern standards of fire safety,” Torres said. “Those buildings put tenants at risk.”