Hours after a three-alarm house fire claimed the lives of three family members and left eight victims injured, neighbors and witnesses described a harrowing tale of people trying to escape the flames, jumping from windows and running for their lives.
The fire, which broke out just before midnight on Saturday night inside a Queens Village home on 211th Street, took about two hours to bring under control, authorities said.
Harleen Kaur, 32; Ragvir Kaur-Kainth, 82; and Pyara Kainth, 87, died in the fire, police said.
A girl, 8, was taken to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow in critical condition, police said. A man, 18, and a boy, 6, were listed in stable condition at the same hospital, police said.
Two men, 53 and 56, were in critical condition at Queens Hospital Center, police said, and a man, 45, was in stable condition there. Two other men, 34 and 22, were in stable condition at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation on Sunday, but FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Michael Gala told reporters there was nothing pointing to it being suspicious.
Ranjit Kaur, 38, said she was planning on sleeping over at the home with her two children when the blaze broke out. Kaur, a family friend who was in the basement at the time, said she smelled the smoke and went up to the first floor to investigate. That’s when she realized she and her two kids, 12 and 13 years old, had to flee.
“I smelled smoke and I came up, and I saw the smoke and darkness on the first floor,” she said. “I ran out from the home. I saw on the top the flames coming — I ran away from the home.”
Kaur said she turned back and heard yelling from the house as survivors started to emerge, their faces blackened from the smoke.
“They were saying, ‘Save, save, save,’” she said. “Everyone was running for their lives. I saved my children’s lives.”
Next door neighbor Sunil Basant, 41, said he heard screaming outside and quickly realized what was going on, evacuating his family as the flames continued to spread.
“Five, six minutes later I came back, they were pulling unresponsive bodies from the window on the second floor,” he said. “I can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t think straight.
“I was like, ‘How could this possibly happen in our neighborhood?’” he added. “You never expect it to happen to your own.”
He had nothing but kind words for his neighbors.
“They’re everything in a neighbor you could ask for: friendly, generous,” he said. “I’m still trying to process.”
Hours after the fire was put out, the smell of smoke still lingered on the quiet residential block. Shattered glass and debris littered the front lawn, with blackened siding peeling off.
FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Gala said firefighters arrived in under four minutes.
“This fire last night did tax our resources,” he said. “I could not be prouder of the way our members operated, putting their lives in harm’s way to rescue trapped civilians. Unfortunately, while many lives were saved last night, we lost three people.”
Surveying the damage on Sunday, neighbor Sharda Sukhdeo, 48, remembered the family as sweet and kind.
“Always have a smile on their face, give you anything you ask for,” she said. Looking up at the house, she added: “I don’t know how they got out. I wish all of them did. It’s terrible.”
Also on Sunday, 12 people were injured in an East Harlem fire, including a man and two children who were left in critical condition. The flames broke out just after 6:30 a.m. inside an apartment on the 29th floor of a building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 110th Street, Gala said.
An adult man and a 6-year-old girl both suffered cardiac arrest, Gala told reporters. A 1-year-old girl suffered respiratory arrest.
The fire took just under an hour to get under control, Gala said, and didn’t appear to be suspicious. While firefighters didn’t hear smoke alarms, Gala said FDNY officials will determine if they were present.
With Lisa Irizarry