‘Horrific’ Bronx fire leaves at least 19 dead, including nine children; space heater may be to blame

Photo Jan 09, 11 17 42 AM
Firefighters administering aid to a victim of a five-alarm inferno in the Bronx on Jan. 9, 2022.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

At least 19 people have died, including nine children, during a five-alarm Bronx fire on Sunday morning, one of the worst blazes the city has seen, it was reported Sunday.

The majority of the victims suffered serious smoke inhalation, many of them caught in smoke-filled stairwells or trapped in their apartments. Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro said the blaze — believed to have been sparked by a faulty space heater, according to the preliminary investigation — was the most horrific the Bronx had seen since the Happy Land social club arson fire in 1990, which claimed 87 lives.

“This is a horrific, horrific, painful moment for the City of New York, and the impact of this fire is going to really bring a level of just pain and despair in our city. The numbers are horrific,” said Mayor Eric Adams at the scene. “We have over 32 people who are life-threatening at this time. We have nine serious injuries, 22 injuries that are not life-threatening, with over 63 people in total.” 

Later, it was reported that 19 of those 32 people had died at local hospitals, and the death toll could climb even higher. Nine of the victims who perished were children, and ten were adults. 

Fire Department sources said Sunday’s blaze erupted at about 10:54 a.m. on Jan. 9 on the third-floor of a 17-story apartment building at 333 East 181st St., the Twin Parks North West complex, in Fordham Heights (it was built in 1972). 

A scene of horror

The blaze quickly extended throughout the structure and grew into a five-alarm inferno. More than 200 firefighters from across the Bronx responded to the scene and are working to put the fire out and rescue people.

The first FDNY units got there within three minutes of 911 operators receiving calls about the emergency, Nigro said. Flames engulfed the second- and third-floors of the building, but thick, acrid smoke filled the entire 19-story structure.

Firefighters found many victims overcome with smoke inhalation in the stairwells or trapped inside apartments; the commissioner noted that a number of victims went into cardiac arrest.  The smoke was so intense that some residents could not find the emergency exits were. 

“The smoke conditions in this building were unprecedented,” Nigro added.

Numerous residents living in the upper floors of the building called 911 for assistance, according to the Fire Department.

Rosely Hernandez was visiting two relatives at the time. While outside the structure during the blaze, she said she saw people at their windows about to jump.

“I frantically have been calling my uncle with no response, and it’s too high up to see a window,” Hernandez said.

FDNY and EMS tend to a victim of a five-alarm blaze in the Bronx on Jan. 9, 2022.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell
Paramedics and EMTs line up gurneys waiting for victims of the Bronx fire.Photo by Adrian Childress
The chaotic scene at a five-alarm blaze in the Bronx on Jan. 9, 2022.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell
A firefighter at the scene of a five-alarm blaze in the Bronx on Jan. 9, 2022.
More than 50 people were injured in the blaze, and a number of the injured were said to be in serious condition, Fire Department sources said.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell
A chief at the scene of a five-alarm blaze in the Bronx on Jan. 9, 2022.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Coping with tragedy

The gravity of Sunday’s horrific fire in the Bronx hit early in the afternoon as officials gazed upon the grim scene of soot-covered firefighters racing unconscious residents on gurneys to waiting ambulances in a race against time.

Facing incredibly heavy smoke, Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro told reporters, the smoke-eaters did their duty, running into the danger to rescue as many people as they could. Some even stayed in the building after they ran out of oxygen in the tanks they covered on their backs.

Their heroic efforts undoubtedly helped save lives, but in the end, they couldn’t save everyone.

The grief families affected by the blaze is unimaginable, according to Governor Kathy Hochul. She recalled speaking with someone who had lost their entire family in the blaze. 

But out of that grief on Sunday evening came resolve from elected officials to help the affected residents recover from the tragedy. 

Hochul pledged to create a victim’s compensation fund in the next budget discussion.

Currently, the city’s Emergency Management department is working out of a nearby middle school, M.S. 391, to register the victims and place them into temporary hotels, and if they do not have access to their apartment for a long period of time, they will offer help through HPD.

“We will not forget you, we will not abandon you,” Hochul promised. “For the individuals I just sat with and said I will not forget you. There will be money to help them to find new housing, burial costs, for whatever they need. We will take care of them because that is what we do in the state of New York.”

The building is home to many African Muslims, according to Mayor Eric Adams. He vowed that all residents would be eligible for relief, and encouraged all to apply. Adams noted that the individuals’ immigration status will not be questioned.

“We will await the findings of this investigation but the immediate concern is the safety of all the residents,” Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson said. “We’re going to take care of every single resident that lives here at Twin Parks … We will get all the resources on the ground that we need to help you and your children.”

Hochul and Adams joined Congress Member Ritchie Torres, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the evening press conference, giving the firefighters a round of applause for continuing to battle the blaze, even when their oxygen tanks ran empty. Adams reveled that it is believed the catastrophic blaze was ignited by a space heater.

The early findings, however, doesn’t make the grief any easier, Mayor Adams noted.

“Nine of them are children, are babies and we’re all feeling this and we are going to be here for this community to help them,” he said.

With reporting by Robbie Sequeira and Christian Falcone