Authorities investigating the cause of the deadly Bronx blaze in a New York City apartment building Sunday morning have reported finding a malfunctioned electric space heater.
Located in one of the building’s bedrooms, the space heater was identified as the source of the disaster that killed 17 people and injured another 63 due to severe smoke inhalation.
“This is a horrific, horrific, painful moment for the city of New York,” said recently elected Mayor Eric Adams, “and the impact of this fire is going to really bring a level of just pain and despair in our city.”
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro announced in a press conference Sunday afternoon that the building’s fire alarms and “a series of open doors” are being investigated to determine why many people were not notified of the danger sooner. He also said that 32 people remain in nearby hospitals with life-threatening conditions due to smoke inhalation.
According to the fire department, the space heater was the cause of the fire in the apartment’s bedroom, where it quickly consumed the room at around 11 a.m. and moved to the second and third floors.
“We are investigating where everyone was found, how the smoke traveled, but certainly the marshals have determined through physical evidence and through firsthand accounts by the residents that this fire started in the bedroom, in a portable electric heater,” Nigro stated.
When the resident evacuated their apartment, the Fire Commissioner reported that they must have left their front door open because the smoke filled the hallway and nearby apartments too quickly.
The building’s heat was on, and its smoke alarms were functioning properly, the department confirmed, but they said that the first emergency call into the station came from a neighbor reporting that the building was filling up with smoke.
The 19-story apartment building had 120 units inside, with some tenants smashing windows just to get air. Many people found in hallways and stairwells were undergoing cardiac arrest as the thick, black smoke spread.
Daisy Mitchell, a new tenant on the 10th floor, was one of the first residents to flee the building, according to CNN, telling reporters she first ignored the fire alarms because they go off all the time in her building. After a while her husband decided to check it out and smoke filled the room as they opened their front door, forcing Daisy Mitchell to momentarily pass out.
“It was devastating, it was like really scary,” she said. “If I’d stayed out there for another three seconds, I would have been gone too.”
Chanasia Hunter, another resident on the 10th floor, also told reporters that fire alarms were a regularity in her building, and that she didn’t leave until a knock on her door telling her to get out quick.
“So, when you don’t know that it’s a fire,” she said, “how would you supposed to know if it’s a fire or if it’s always going off?”
The fire department said that the fire alarms would be investigated, as well as the lack of “self-closing doors,” which the building is required to implement to contain fires and stop the smoke from spreading.
The Bronx apartment complex also had no fire escapes, trapping residents in interior stairwells as they tried to make their exit.
“The risk of a fire is much higher in lower-income neighborhoods in the Bronx than it might be elsewhere in the city or in the country,” Congressman Ritchie Torres stated. Many older buildings in lower-income neighborhoods are also without sprinkler systems and kitchen stove-top ventilation, making fire alarms more frequent and fires more deadly.
“When we allow our affordable housing developments to be plagued by decades of disinvestment, we are putting lives at risk,” he continued. “These buildings are wide open to catastrophic fires that can cost people their lives, including the lives of children.”