The fire broke out around 1:45 a.m. in the kitchen of the fifth-floor apartment inside the Frederick Samuel Houses on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.
Officials believe a stove burner was left on overnight, which is being investigated as the possible cause of the fire. Authorities were also investigating if the smoke and carbon monoxide detector -- which had been successfully tested in January -- was wrapped in towel to prevent it from going off while cooking.
Video footage from the fire apartment at 2441 7th Avenue in Harlem, where two adults and four children were killed early this morning. pic.twitter.com/TBAR5i5ri4— FDNY (@FDNY) May 8, 2019
Two adults, a 45-year-old Andrea Pollidore and her step-brother 33-year-old Mac Abdularaulph, were killed, along with her four children, identified as 11-year-old Nakiyra, 8-year-old Andre, 6-year-old Brooklyn, and 4-year-old Ellijah.
They were all pronounced dead at the scene.
Ellijah's father, Jean Belot, shared memories of his son and a video of him playing with his favorite "Thomas the Train" bubble machine.
"He was smart, a quick learner," Belot said.
Three other people suffered minor injuries.
"The fire met them at the front door of the apartment," FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. "It is a particularly large apartment with three bedrooms, living room, kitchen, dining room, and every bit of that apartment had fire damage."
Officials said they believe the mother fell asleep while cooking, and her sister, who lives across the street, told investigators the victim often wrapped smoke detectors with towels so they wouldn't go off during cooking.
Investigators also learned Pollidore was seriously injured in a kitchen fire at her previous home on Jefferson Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, during which she sustained first-degree burns and memory loss.
She was briefly in a coma before recovering, and careless cooking was believed to be the cause.
"I was just with them yesterday," neighbor Patricia Flowers said. "They were going to play on their bikes."
"It's unbelievabe to me, I'm just stuck," said Pollidore's surviving daughter, Raven Reyes, who came home early Wednesday morning to learn of the tragedy.
"It's unbearable, it's undescribable, it's just like I don't even have words," she said.
"We're in the life-saving business and we take this very personally when we're unable to save this family," said Nigro.
The building is a city-run housing authority complex.
Neighbor Cathy Black says the kids always showed respect, and that she had a special bond with 11-year-old Nakiyra.
"Friday, she came and brought me flowers and said, 'Happy Mother's Day,'" Black said. "She said, 'I picked flowers for some of the ladies in the building. I'm graduating this year and I want to see you there.'"
She said it takes a village to raise a family, and she was part of their village.
"Anything they needed, if I had it, they could get it, they knew, the kids knew it," Black said. "It's going to be rough. Poor babies, no graduation."
Other residents described grabbing their children and pets as they ran from the building, some used the fire escapes. Many of the residents were asleep when the fire broke out.
Some said they heard alarms, while others said it was neighbors knocking on their doors that alerted them to the fire.
"I didn't hear any alarms, everyone was sleeping," one resident said. "Neighbors started screaming, 'Everybody hurry up, hurry up, come outside, it's a fire, it's a fire.'"
The Red Cross was on the scene, handing out blankets and providing assistance to displaced residents.
Mayor Bill de Blasio commented on the fire on Twitter:
A tragic apartment fire at Samuel Houses in Harlem overnight took the lives of 6 people, including 4 young kids.— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) May 8, 2019
More than 100 firefighters fought to save them.
Our hearts break for this family and for their neighbors and loved ones.
This is the deadliest fire in New York City since the December 2017 fire in the Bronx that killed 13 people.
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