A malfunctioning space heater sparked a fire in a Bronx apartment building on Sunday morning that killed at least 19 people, including nine children. It was the deadliest fire in New York City in more than three decades and the death toll could still rise. A total of 63 people were injured in the blaze and at least 13 were hospitalized in critical condition. “The numbers are horrific,” Mayor Eric Adams said at a news conference on Sunday afternoon. “This is going to be one of the worst fires that we have witnessed during modern times in the city of New York.”
The fire started shortly before 11 a.m. in a duplex apartment building on the second and third floors of the 19-story building in Fordham Heights. The door of the apartment was open, which appears to have allowed the fire to spread quickly throughout the building. Firefighters arrived within three minutes but at the time the smoke had already extended throughout the entire height of the building. “The smoke conditions in this building were unprecedented,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. It seems at least several of the residents of the building delayed evacuating because they had become used to the frequent false fire alarms. Once they realized it was serious, many couldn’t escape the building, where many of the residents were originally from the West African nation of Gambia.
Some residents broke windows to get air as they waited for rescue workers. Firefighters “found victims on every floor and were taking them out in cardiac and respiratory arrest,” Nigro said. Officials compared the fire to the 1990 blaze at the Happy Land social club, where 87 people were killed. That fire had been deliberately set by a man who had gotten kicked out of the Bronx club after he got into an argument with his former girlfriend, who worked at the club.