At least 12 people, including a child, have died in a blaze at a Bronx apartment building on a frigid night, New York City’s mayor has said.
Bill de Blasio said one of the victims was an infant and four other people were critically injured. Visiting the scene, the mayor said: “This will rank as one of the worst losses of life to a fire in many, many years.”
He praised firefighters for saving 12 people from the blaze, which is now under control after breaking out just before 7pm at a five-storey building a block from the Bronx Zoo.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro called the fire, “historic in its magnitude”, because of the number of lives lost. “Our hearts go out to every person who lost a loved one here and everyone who is fighting for their lives,” he said.
Nigro said the fire started on the first floor and quickly spread upstairs. People died on multiple floors, and ranged in age from one to over 50.
More than 160 firefighters worked in bone-chilling cold, just 15 degrees, to rescue people from the building. A nearby school has been set up to shelter evacuees on a bitterly cold night. Water sprayed from hoses froze into ice on the street.
The fire began on the first floor just before 7pm and quickly ripped through much of the building, officials said.
Neighborhood resident Robert Gonzalez, who has a friend who lives in the building, said she got out on a fire escape as another resident fled with five children. “When I got here, she was crying,” Gonzalez said.
Windows on some upper floors were smashed and blackened. “The smoke was crazy, people screaming, ‘Get out!,” a witness, Jamal Flicker, told the New York Post. “I heard a woman yelling, ‘We’re trapped, help!”
According to city records, the building had no elevator. Fire escapes were visible on the facade of the building.
One of the deadliest fires in recent city memory happened elsewhere in the Bronx in 2007. Nine children and one adult died in a blaze sparked by a space heater.