A child playing with a stove ignited a massive fire Thursday night that killed at least 12 people, including children, at an apartment building in the Bronx borough of New York City, officials said.
Daniel Nigro, the FDBY’s fire commissioner, told reporters Friday that a 3 ½-year-old child was fiddling around with a stove on the first floor of the building when the fire broke out around 7 p.m.
The mother of the child left the apartment with her two children, leaving the door open which allowed the blaze to spread quickly, he said.
Nigro said the incident was the worst loss of life caused by fires in the city, excluding the September 11 terror attacks, since 87 people were killed at a social club fire in the Bronx in 1990.
More than 170 firefighters were on the scene of the four-alarm fire, located at a five-story walk-up apartment house in the Bronx, just a block from the borough’s famed zoo, FOX5 New York reported. The firefighters worked to battle the blaze in temperatures as low as 15 degrees.
The victims included children aged 1, 2, 7 and an unidentified boy, the FDNY announced. The other victims were three women aged 19, 37, 63, one unidentified woman and four unidentified men. Authorities have not named the victims. Dozens of other victims were rescued with injuries but were expected to recover.
The New York Times reported a woman, her two daughters and her niece were among the dead. They were identified as Karen Stewart-Francis, 37, and her daughters: Kylie Francis, 2, and Kelly Francis, 7 and her niece Shawntay Young, 19.
Stewart-Francis’ mother, told the newspaper that 13 family members resided in the apartment building.
“My daughter. My grandchildren. Tell me, what am I going to do?” Ambrozia Stewart said. “Four people I lost.”
The building had no elevator, the Associated Press reported, citing city records. Fire escapes were visible on the facade of the building.
The fire department responded to emergency calls within three minutes.
Witnesses described the scene of the fire and the panic from the building’s tenants.
“I heard a woman yelling, ‘We’re trapped, help!'”
One witness, Xanral Collins, told the New York Post he saw a father running toward the building, but was unable to enter.
“I saw him screaming, ‘My babies are dead! My babies are dead!'” Collins said.
Jamal Flicker, a witness told the New York Post he heard screams for help.
“The smoke was crazy, people screaming, ‘Get out!” Flicker said. “I heard a woman yelling, ‘We’re trapped, help!'”
“I went to four hospitals, I can’t find him,”
Neighborhood resident Robert Gonzalez, who has a friend who lives in the building, told the Associated Press she got out on a fire escape as another resident fled with five children.
“When I got here, she was crying,” Gonzalez said.
Kwabena Mensah told the Daily News he feared his son, Emmanuel Mensah, a U.S. soldier, was one of the victims of the devastating fire.
“He came home from the Army about a week ago for the holidays,” he said.
Mensah said his son’s roommate saw the soldier before the fire broke out in the building.
“He was telling the roommate to not come out of the apartment because there was smoke. But when they rescued everyone from the windows, we couldn’t find him. I went to four hospitals, I can’t find him,” Mensah said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, at Thursday’s news conference, advised to “hold your families close and keep these families here in the Bronx in your prayers.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.