Fire in the Bronx: New York’s Worst Fire in Decades.

Aimee Gonsalves, Contributor

According to New York Mayor Eric Adams, a faulty electric space heater in a bedroom triggered a fire at an apartment building in the Bronx on Sunday, killing 17 people, including 8 children, making it one of the city’s worst tragedies in history. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro reported during a news conference at the scene that a total of 44 persons were injured, 13 of them were seriously injured. The Red Cross stated that it had offered emergency lodging to 22 families, totaling 56 adults and 25 children.

The National Fire Protection Association ranked the Bronx fire as the second-worst in the United States in nearly 40 years. “This is a horrific, horrific, painful moment for the city of New York, and the impact of this fire is going to bring a level of just pain and despair in our city,” Eric Adams said. 

When smoke began to creep into Dana Campbell’s apartment, her four children summoned her. She arrived just as they were leaping from a third-floor window onto an improvised landing cushion, happy to discover they were unharmed. “You can be here tomorrow with broken legs,” she said. “You can’t be here tomorrow with smoke inhalation.” Many of the individuals in the building were Muslim immigrants from the West African country of Gambia. Over the years, the structure has served as a valuable home for many such immigrants. 

According to municipal building records, there have been no severe building violations or complaints against the 120-unit complex. The property has corrected minor problems in the past, and no structural violations are reported. New York firefighter union members stated at a press conference on Monday, January 10 that the building was not required to follow local fire rules. “There was different fire protection in this building than we have in tenements and other high rises under the New York City code,” said Jim McCarthy, president of the FDNY Fire Officers Association. “So it exposed members to a more dangerous atmosphere.” Life-saving fire prevention devices such as sprinkler systems were not always required in older buildings. 

According to Nigro, the apartment door was left open as people exited the burning unit, causing the fire to spread. Although the fire was restricted to that hallway, the smoke spread above and took over most structures. The doors were intended to close automatically, but Nigro said Monday that the apartment door and the stairway door on the 15th level were not working correctly. According to the agency, approximately 200 firefighters from the FDNY rushed to the incident at 333 East 181st Street. Units were at the site within three minutes of receiving an emergency call. They found people on every story in stairwells, many of whom were in cardiac and respiratory arrest.

Investigators are looking at possible problems with fire alarms, and self-closing doors meant to keep fire and smoke out.