12 Dead, More Injured in Bronx Apartment Fire, NYC’s Worst in Quarter Century

More than 160 firefighters responded to a blaze at a Bronx apartment building Thursday evening. Credit Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
More than 160 firefighters responded to a blaze at a Bronx apartment building Thursday evening. Credit Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

At least 12 people were killed when a fire tore through a century-old apartment building in the Bronx on a frigid Thursday night, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. It was the deadliest fire in New York City in more than a quarter-century.

In addition to the deaths, four people were critically injured and two people sustained non-life-threatening injuries, the mayor said at a news conference late Thursday.

The first emergency call came at 6:51 p.m. for a fire in a five-story apartment building at 2363 Prospect Avenue in the Belmont section, a spokesman for the New York City Fire Department said, and the department responded in three minutes. Within an hour, the fire had reached four-alarm status, and more than 160 firefighters were on site.

By the time Mr. de Blasio spoke around 10 p.m., the flames had been brought under control. The cause was not yet clear.

It was a bitterly cold night, with temperatures in the teens, and the wind chill made it feel like single digits. Displaced residents walked around draped in American Red Cross blankets.

Under a sign welcoming visitors to Little Italy, a woman wailed as she hopped out of a Red Cross vehicle. The woman, who declined to give her name, said that she had escaped with her daughter and pulled two children from a neighbor’s family from the fire, but that other children had been left behind.

“I had one on my front and one on my back,” she said, sobbing. “I couldn’t carry the rest of them.”

Luz Hernandez, another resident, said she first realized something was wrong when the smell of burned rubber filled her apartment on the fourth floor, followed by smoke so thick that it made the room pitch-black. She summoned her husband and two sons, 11 and 16, to the window, and they descended the front fire escape as smoke rose near them.

Later, Ms. Hernandez said in Spanish, she saw the charred bodies of two women who lived together and their two young daughters being carried away on stretchers.

The smoke seeped through the closed windows of a building next door where Ana Santiago, 25, was cooking in a fifth-floor apartment.

Ms. Santiago said she called 911 and ran downstairs with her 4-year-old son, knocking on neighbors’ doors as she went. When she reached the street, she saw a man lying on the ground, she said, pointing to a patch of sidewalk where glass shards lay like snow. She said she could not tell if he was alive or dead.

Three young girls, Ms. Santiago said, had descended from a fire escape barefoot, wearing no coats. They stood outside, crying, before a neighbor in a first-floor apartment hurried them indoors.

The building — a five-story walk-up on Prospect Avenue near East 187th Street, close to Fordham University and the Bronx Zoo — was built in 1916, according to property records. It has more than 20 units.

The 12 confirmed fatalities made the fire the deadliest since an inferno at the Happy Land social club killed 87 people in 1990. It surpassed the toll from a decade ago, in March 2007, when 10 people — nine of them children — were killed after an overheated cord to a space heater caused a fire that tore through a four-story house in the Bronx.

SOURCE: MAGGIE ASTOR and ASHLEY SOUTHALL 
The New York Times