NEW YORK (AP) – Investigators on Monday sought answers as to why security doors failed to close when a fire broke out in a high-rise New York high-rise that caused thick smoke to billow through the tower and put 17 people, including eight children, in the city’s deadliest. People died. fire in more than three decades
A malfunctioning electric space heater ignited a 19-story building in the Bronx on Sunday, fire officials said. The flames damaged only a small part of the building, but smoke blew through the apartment’s open door and turned the stairs into a dark, ash-filled death trap. To escape the fire, the only way to escape was the stairs in the very tall tower.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Negro said the front door of the apartment and a door on the 15th floor should have closed automatically and caused smoke, but the doors remained fully open. It was not clear whether the doors failed mechanically or if they were manually disabled. Negro said that the door of the apartment was not obstructed.
Fire officials said heavy smoke prevented some residents from fleeing and disabled others as they tried to escape. Firefighters pulled out the lame children and gave them oxygen and the rescue work continued even after their air supply was exhausted.
Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College in New York City, said closed doors are key to preventing fires and smoke, especially in buildings that don’t have automatic sprinkler systems.
“It’s pretty remarkable how many deaths we can have here from a single door failure, but that’s the reality of it,” Corbett said. “That one door played a key role in spreading the fire and allowing smoke and heat to dissipate vertically through the building.”
Dozens of people are hospitalized, with many in critical condition. Mayor Eric Adams called it an “unspeakable tragedy” at a news conference near the scene on Monday.
“This tragedy is not going to define us,” Adams said. “It’s going to show our resilience.”
Adams on Sunday lowered the death toll from a preliminary report, saying that two fewer people had died than originally thought. Negro said patients were taken to seven hospitals and there was “a slight double count.”
City council member Oswald Feliz said children up to four years old were among the dead.
Negro said an investigation was underway to find out how the fire spread and whether anything could have been done to prevent or control the fire.
A fire department official said the space heater had been running “for a long time” before the fire started. Spokesman Frank Dwyer said it was investigating what caused the damage. Dwyer said the fire quickly spread to nearby furniture and bedding.
Negro said the building was running heat before the fire started, and space heaters were being used to supplement it.
But Stéphane Beauvogue, who has lived in the building with his wife for nearly seven years, said the cold is a problem in their fourth-floor apartment. Beauvoui said they have three space heaters for the winter — one for the bedroom and the sitting room. The heating system that was supposed to heat the apartment “nothing works.” He said he had complained, but it was not rectified.
Large, new apartment buildings are required to have sprinkler systems and interior doors that close automatically to block smoke and deprive fires of oxygen, but those rules don’t apply to the city’s thousands of older buildings. .
The building was equipped with self-closing doors and smoke alarms, but many residents said they initially ignored the alarms because they were so common in a 120-unit building.
Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, which owns the building, said it is cooperating fully with the fire department and the city and is working to assist residents.
“We are devastated by the unimaginable loss of life caused by this grave tragedy,” the statement said.
Kelly Magee, a spokeswoman for the ownership group, said in July that maintenance workers locked the front door of the apartment that had caught fire and, during that repair, checked that the apartment’s self-locking door was working. No problems were reported with the door after that point, Maggie said.
According to a database maintained by the Department of Housing Protection and Development, New York City inspectors have issued violations on five apartments in the building for problems with self-closing doors and a stairway opening up to a dozen years ago. The record states that all violations were corrected.
Maggie said residents smoking in the stairs sometimes tripped the fire alarm, and the property manager was working with them, Maggie said. He said the alarm appeared to be working properly on Sunday.
He said the tower only needed to be sprayed with a garbage compactor and laundry room to make it to code because it has concrete ceilings and floors.
Camber Property Group is one of three firms in the ownership group that purchased the building in 2020 as part of a $166 million purchase of eight affordable housing buildings in the borough. One of Camber’s founders, Rick Groper, served on Adams’ transition team, advising him on accommodations. He contributed a dozen politicians to the last few elections, including $400 to Adams’ campaign last year.
New York City has been slow to require sprinklers for older apartment buildings, passing legislation to mandate them in high-rise office towers after 9/11, but one such bill has been punting in recent years. which would require such measures in residential buildings.
In 2018, a city legislator proposed requiring automatic fire sprinklers in residential buildings 40 feet or higher by the end of 2029, but the measure never passed, and the legislator recently left office.
Ronald Ciarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, said a sprinkler system installed to heat the apartment would have saved lives.
“Most likely it would have extinguished that fire or at least kept it in check and not produced the amount of toxic fumes,” said Ciarnicki, adding that firefighting groups have been lobbying for stricter sprinkler requirements for years. Huh.
The building originally housed several families from The Gambia, West Africa.
Resident Karen DeJesus said she was used to hearing the fire alarm sound.
“It wasn’t until I actually saw smoke in the door, I realized it was a real fire, and I started yelling at people, ‘Help! Help! Help!'” he said.
DeJesus, who lives in a two-story apartment with her son and 3-year-old granddaughter, immediately called family members and ran to put a towel under the door. But before the 56-year-old resident could get the towels, smoke started coming down his stairs, so the trio ran to the back of the apartment.
“It was very scary,” she said. “Just the fact that we’re in a building that’s burning and you don’t know how you’re going to get out. You don’t know if the firefighters will get to you in time.”
Firefighters broke down his door and helped secure the three out of the window and down a ladder. On the way, Dijesus clings to his defender.
It was the deadliest fire in New York City since 1990, when a arson at the Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx also killed 87 people. Sunday’s fire came just days after a home fire in Philadelphia killed 12 people, including eight children.
Associated Press writers Bobby Cana Calvan, Deepti Hajela and Bernard Condon contributed to this report.