Twelve people were killed and four critically injured, after a fire broke out in an apartment building in the Bronx borough of New York City. Dozens of other victims were rescued with injuries but were expected to recover. The fast moving fire sent residents running into the freezing temperatures for safety just before 7pm on Thursday.
The fire was started by a three year old boy who had been playing with the burners on the stove in a first floor apartment. The boy’s screams alerted his mother that a fire had erupted. The mother fled the burning apartment with the boy and his 2-year-old sibling, leaving the apartment door open. That fatal mistake allowed the fire to spread quickly through the 5 story building-trapping families on the floors above.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the apartment’s stairway acted “like a chimney” as the fire burst from the apartment, feeding the flames and allowing them to spread throughout the building. The smoke from the fire filled the stairway and halls, quickly cutting off visibility to those trapped inside. The 26-unit apartment building was required to have self-closing doors, which swing shut on their own to keep fires from spreading, city Housing Preservation and Development Department spokesman Matthew Creegan said. Investigators will look at whether the door to the apartment was defective or if an obstruction prevented it from closing, he said.
Killed in the blaze were Maria Batiz, 58; her 8 -month-old grand-daughter Amora Batiz; Gabriel Yaw Sarkookie, 48; Justice Opoku, 54; Solomon Donkor, 49; William Donkor; Hannah Donkor, 17; Shantay Young, 19; Karen Francis, 37; Kylie Francis, 2; Charmela Francis, 7 and Emmanuel Mensah, 28. Mensah, has been hailed a hero for heading back into the fire to save others. Private Mensah, had been home from Army duty for the holiday after finishing basic training in Georgia. His father said he had been awarded a medal for marksmanship and was planning to join the military police. He was scheduled to head to Virginia and from there to battlefields unknown. His sister wept as she said he always put others before himself.
Mensah, lived in Apartment 11, on the 3rd floor with a friend of his father’s who was at home with his wife and four children when the fire broke out. After Mensah got that family to safety, he returned and pulled out four more people. He was last seen heading back into the fire to help others. When he couldn’t be found, family members said they were hoping he was among those injured in the fire. His remains were found in Apartment 15 on the 4th floor.
One family, the Stewarts, lost four family members during the deadly blaze. Karen Stewart-Francis, Kylie Francis, Charmela Francis, and their cousin Shawntay Young were killed. In all, 13 family members — cousins, uncles, aunts – all lived in the building after emigrating from Jamaica between 1980-2004 and deciding to stay close. Another family member, Holt Francis, emerged alive from the deadly mix of smoke and flames, but was put into a medically induced coma with a dire prognosis. Family members say he’s a fighter and the family wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. His wife Karen was killed in the blaze.