NYC apartment fire kills 17, including children; space heater was cause

NEW YORK — An apartment fire in New York City has killed more than a dozen people.

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Firefighters were called to the building in the Fordham Heights section of the Bronx just before 11 a.m. EST, WABC-TV reported. Fire officials said the five-alarm fire began in a duplex apartment on the second and third floor of the 19-story building, the television station reported.

Update 12:44 p.m. EST Jan. 10: The death toll from Sunday’s fire has been adjusted down with officials saying 17 people were killed in the blaze. Originally Mayor Eric Adams had warned that the death count was expected to increase, The Associated Press reported.

Eight of the victims were children, CNN reported.

Adams said he has spoken to the school administrators where the children who were killed in the fire attended. He took time to speak about the victims and pledged support to the educators, staff and students.

Adams also stressed that education is needed to prevent another tragedy like this one, adding that people need to be reminded that in case of fire, to close the door. He is working with educators to bring those lessons into classrooms, he said.

A door to an apartment and a second to a stairwell were left open allowing the flames to spread, the AP reported.

He also said he had spoken to President Joe Biden on Monday morning.

“Just a few moments ago, I received a call from President Biden and he has made it clear that whatever we need, the White House is going to be there for us,” Adams said, according to CNN. “He has just sent a very strong message that this is on the radar of the entire globe.”

Pope Francis sent condolences to the victims of the fire via a telegram sent to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Francis offered “heartfelt condolences and the assurance of his spiritual closeness” and was signed by Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the AP reported.

Update 5:42 p.m. EST Jan. 9: New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said during a news conference that the cause of the fire was a malfunction in an electric space heater in the bedroom of the duplex. Nigro said the heat was working in the building, but said the space heater was “supplemental.”

Nigro said a door was left open in the apartment, which allowed the smoke and fire to move through the apartment.

Update 5:33 p.m. EST Jan. 9: New York City Mayor Eric Adams said during a Sunday evening news conference that “it appears” the fire was ignited from a space heater.

“We’re all feeling this,” said Adams, who was joined at the news conference by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Update 5:30 p.m. EST Jan. 9: The 120-unit building, at 333 East 181st Street was built in 1972, according to city records.

About 25 windows facing Webster Avenue were blown out, according to The New York Times.

Officials said the fire was reminiscent to a blaze at the Happy Land nightclub in 1990, also in the Bronx, which killed 87 people, the newspaper reported. The club, which operated illegally, had no sprinklers, and several exits were blocked off with roll-down security shutters.

Update 3:34 p.m. EST Jan. 9: Stefan Ringel, a senior adviser to Mayor Eric Adams, told The Associated Press that more than five dozen people were injured and 13 people were still in critical condition in the hospital. The majority of victims were suffering from severe smoke inhalation, New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said at a news conference.

Update 3:29 p.m. EST Jan. 9: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul tweeted that she was “horrified” by the fire.

“My heart is with the loved ones of all those we’ve tragically lost, all of those impacted and with our heroic @FDNY firefighters,” Hochul wrote.

Updated 3:03 p.m. EST Jan. 9: Fire officials said 19 people died in the fire, with nine of the fatalities children.

More than 40 additional people were injured in the fire, New York Mayor Eric Adams and New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters.

The fire began in a duplex apartment on the second and third floors of the building, Nigro said. The door to the apartment was left open, and smoke then spread to every floor of the building, he added.

Update 2:55 p.m. EST Jan. 9: “This is a horrific, horrific, painful moment for the city of New York and the impact of this fire is going to really bring a level of just pain and despair in our city,” Mayor Eric Adams said at the scene. “The numbers are horrific. We have over 32 people who are life-threatening at this time.”

“This is going to be one of the worst fires we have witnessed during modern times in the city of New York,” the mayor added.

Thirty-two people were transported to five hospitals, WCBS-TV reported. The majority of the victims suffered from severe smoke inhalation, New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters.

Firefighters “found victims on every floor and were taking them out in cardiac and respiratory arrest,” Nigro said. “That is unprecedented in our city. We expect there to be numerous fatalities.”

Original report: As of 1 p.m. EST, the New York City Fire Department said at least 54 people were injured and 35 were taken to area hospitals, WPIX-TV reported. Thirty-one of the people taken to hospitals suffered serious injuries, and 19 people were treated at the scene, according to the television station.

Approximately 200 firefighters responded to the blaze.

According to WNBC-TV, the city’s Office of Emergency Management tweeted a warning to residents living near the fire to close windows and avoid smoke.