A massive fire tore through an apartment building in New York City on Sunday morning, killing at least 19 people, nine of whom were children, and injuring dozens more, the city’s mayor said.
The five-alarm fire was described as one of the city’s worst in decades, with people requiring rescue from every stairwell inside the 19-story building while suffering from cardiac and respiratory arrest, New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters at the scene.
City officials had earlier reported that more than 63 people were injured in the blaze. Of that total, 32 suffered life-threatening injuries, nine were seriously injured and 22 had non-life-threatening injuries. The majority of the injuries were due to smoke inhalation, said Nigro.
“We expect there to be numerous fatalities,” said Nigro, who called the large number of life-threatening injuries “unprecedented” for the city.
“The last time we had a loss of life that may be this horrific was the Happy Land Fire. That was over 30 years ago, also here in the Bronx,” he said. That 1990 blaze, which was determined to have been an act of arson, killed 87 people.
It was not immediately known how this fire started, though Nigro said a door had been left open at the apartment where the fire started, allowing its smoke and flames to quickly spread. Firefighters responded within three minutes of the first 911 call, though the smoke quickly extended the entire height of the building, Nigro said, which was “completely unusual.”
“This is going to be one of the worst fires that we have witnessed during modern times here in the city of New York,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul expressed her condolences to the victims in a statement posted to Twitter and said “the entire State of New York stands with New York City.”
“I am horrified by the devastating fire in the Bronx today. My heart is with the loved ones of all those we’ve tragically lost, all of those impacted and with our heroic [FDNY] firefighters,” she wrote.
Evacuated residents, speaking with the New York Post, recalled their dramatic escape while seeing bodies being carried out of the building in blankets.
“We saw moms fainting. They saw their kids dying,” a 13-year-old, whose aunt was identified as living on the 15th floor, told the Post. “We saw a bunch of bodies coming out. People from my childhood were dying.”
“It was traumatizing,” a ninth floor resident told the paper. “We went onto the sixth floor and a neighbor let us in and we stayed there until the firemen took us out.”
Last week, a fire at a duplex home in Philadelphia killed 12 people, including seven children. The four smoke alarms in the building were believed to not be working at the time of the Jan. 5 fire.