Tears rained in the Bronx on a cold, sun-drenched January day after New York City’s deadliest fire in three decades.
The morning after the deadly, five-alarm fire in Fordham Heights on Jan. 9 raging inferno was eerily quiet. The only good news was that the death toll had been revised lower on Monday — from 19 to 17, nine adults and eight children. But that doesn’t ease the grief the entire city feels.
Twin Parks North West stood over the neighborhood Monday with its windows shattered and blackened, and its apartment units left in a state of disarray after its occupants fled for their lives.
Below, on the street level, men and women in hazmat suits worked to sweep the sidewalk and bag wreckage and broken objects that once belonged to human beings.
Residents themselves could be observed lugging what possessions they could salvage in tote bags, away from what was once their home. However, for those not as lucky as even that, 24-hours after the historic blaze, many of the building’s tenants spend their time in hospital beds or recovering in hotels or friends’ houses.
Just before noon, local clergy members held prayers for the lost and suffering, evoking a higher will to look upon the victims. Less than one block away the still morning’s silence was broken with distraught wails and streaming tears from a local resident who lost a loved one to the unrelenting flames.
Famta Varrow, 46, has lived in New York City for almost 10 years. Like many of her neighbors, Varrow immigrated from Gambia in search of a better life, but now mourns the loss of her 27-year-old cousin, Sera Janneh.
Sunday morning, Varrow was at work when she heard news of a fire sweeping from the second floor and up into the third floor of her family’s apartment building. She frantically reached out to her uncle, who resides at the Twin Parks North West complex, to ensure he was safe; however, they could not get in contact with her cousins, Aisha (19 years old) and Sera Janneh (27-years old).
With tears rolling down her face, she could barely speak as she shared that her 27-year-old cousin Aisha did not escape the blaze, while Sera is intubated at a local hospital.
“She was tall, beautiful, lovely. Liked by everybody,” Varrow said, adding that her cousin dreamed of becoming a lawyer.
Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro stated that their preliminary search found that a faulty space heater had been the cause of the raging inferno. Nigro stated that the fire began in a bedroom on the second floor; however, since the residents fled without the door closing behind them, the dense, thick, acrid, life-consuming smoke traveled all the way up to the 19th floor.
Investigators are still trying to determine whether the self-closing doors were not functioning properly, which would explain how the smoke was able to travel so quickly throughout the entire building suffocating tenants and trapping some of them in their homes and the hallways.