FDNY: Brooklyn fire sparked by voodoo candles

February 25, 2011 4:11:39 PM PST
Investigators say the use of candles during a voodoo ceremony sparked a devastating fire in Brooklyn.

The deadly fire happened at 346 East 29th Street last Saturday.

Investigators said the fire began around 6:40 p.m. when a Brooklyn woman visited a fourth-floor apartment in the building. She paid one of the male occupants $300 to perform a voodoo ceremony aimed at bringing her good luck.

Candles arranged on the floor around a bed where the ceremony took place ignited bed linens and clothes on the floor, officials said.

Instead of calling 911, the man began retrieving water from a bathroom sink in a futile effort to put it out, but the flames only grew. As smoke began to gather in the apartment, one of the other occupants opened a window and propped open the door to the public hall in an attempt to dissipate the smoke.

Wind gusts of up to 40 mph instead shot the flames back inside, creating a blowtorch effect as winds whipped in through the open window and pushed fire out into the hallway. The occupants fled the apartment, leaving the door open.

FDNY Fire Marshals determined that the open door and delays in calling 911 helped quickly escalate the fire to a fifth alarm.

"Time and time again we respond to tragedies that could have been so easily prevented," Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano said. "This fire had so many of those elements - candles left on the floor near combustible material, one of the occupants trying to douse the flames before calling 911 and an open door, which allowed fire to spread into the hallway. Hopefully others will learn from this tragedy."

Fire engulfed the fourth, fifth and sixth floors, causing part of the roof and fourth floor to collapse. A 64-year-old woman who lived on the sixth floor was killed in the fire and 20 firefighters and three civilians were injured.

Nearly 200 firefighters from 44 companies took nearly seven hours to bring the fire under control.