About 200 firefighters were battling the five-alarm fire that started in a duplex apartment on the third floor of a 19-story high-rise building at 333 East 181st Street in the Tremont section of the Bronx just before 11 a.m. Sunday.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro says a malfunctioning space heater was the cause of the deadly fire. He says the space heater was being used to supplement building heat. Smoke alarms were operable.
At least 63 people were injured, with 32 sustaining "life-threatening" injuries and 13 "clinging to their lives" in nearby hospitals, according to Nigro. The predominant injury for the 32 victims was severe smoke inhalation.
Nigro says he expected "numerous fatalities."
"This is going to be one of the worst fires we have witnessed here in modern times in the city of New York," New York City Mayor Eric Adams said at the press conference.
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Eyewitness News reporter Josh Einiger spoke with the man who lived in the apartment where the fire started.
"We was sleeping and then my kids were screaming saying fire, fire," Mamadou Wague said.
The fire started in Wague's third floor duplex, where he lives with his wife and eight kids, one of whom was trapped on a burning bed.
Wague has burns on his nose from when he leapt through the flames to rescue his daughter, who is burned but alive.
"I don't want anybody life -- I don't want to hear anybody dead in this fire, that's what I worry about," Wague said.
Firefighters arrived on site three minutes after the initial fire call and were met with fire in the hallway of the building.
Victims were found in the stairwells, according to the commissioner, as smoke extended the height of the building.
Speaking to the resilience of the firefighters who battled the blaze, Mayor Adams said many of the firefighters' oxygen tanks eventually became empty and "they still went through the smoke."
Residents described the events that unfolded as "traumatizing" as they escaped from the building during the fire.
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"It was a lot of smoke so we had to stop at the sixth floor and we were able to get into a neighbor's home. We stayed there until the firefighters came and they were able to guide us out," apartment resident Fatima said.
Nigro noted that a door was left open, which allowed the fire and smoke to spread.
The 32 injured were transported to five different hospitals in the Bronx.
In total, at least 63 people were injured from the fire. Of the surviving victims there are 13 people with life threatening injuries, 9 people in serious condition and 22 people with non-life threatening injuries.
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New York Governor Kathy Hochul says she is "horrified by the devastating fire."
She added, "My heart is with the loved ones of all those we've tragically lost, all of those impacted and with our heroic FDNY firefighters. The entire state of New York stands with New York City."
I am horrified by the devastating fire in the Bronx today.— Kathy Hochul (@GovKathyHochul) January 9, 2022
My heart is with the loved ones of all those we’ve tragically lost, all of those impacted and with our heroic @FDNY firefighters.
The entire State of New York stands with New York City.
Hochul was also on site where she noted that she spoke with a mother who lost her entire family in the fire and sent a message to the victims that "we will not forget you, we will not abandon you."
Dramatic video posted to social media show fire and smoke gushing out of multiple windows in the building.
The fire has since been put out.
An investigation is underway but the fire commissioner says the fire is not suspicious.
Department of Building inspectors are currently on scene to conduct structural stability inspections throughout the building and assist with the ongoing investigation.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that portable electric heaters are involved in about 1,100 fires per year.
The National Fire Protection Association, claims space heaters were most often responsible for the home heating equipment fires, accounting for more than two in five fires, as well as the vast majority of deaths (81%) and injuries (80%) in home fires caused by heating equipment.
This was the second major fire in the Bronx over the weekend. A four-alarm fire in the Fordham Heights section of the Bronx that began early Saturday morning injured a firefighter and displaced three families.
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