At least 12 people, including four children, were killed in a fire that erupted in a five-story apartment building in the Bronx Thursday evening, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who described the scene as "an unspeakable tragedy."
"Although it's unfortunate that 12 are dead already, we may lose more as well," de Blasio said with tears in his eyes during a 10 p.m. news conference outside the building at 2363 Prospect Ave., just one block from the Bronx Zoo in Belmont. "This is the worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city in at least a quarter century."
The victims include three girls, ages 1, 2 and 7, and a young boy, whose age was not immediately known, the NYPD said. The rest of the victims were adults, including four women, ages 19, 37, 58 and one who was unidentified, and four unidentified men, police said. The names of the victims were not immediately released.
Four additional people were in serious condition and "fighting for their lives," FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. Two others suffered non-life-threatening injuries, according to a fire official.
"In a department that's certainly no stranger to tragedy, we're shocked by this loss," Nigro said. "As of now this tragedy is, without question, historic in magnitude. And our hearts go out to every family who lost a loved one here and everyone who is fighting for their lives."
Roughly 175 firefighters from 39 units battled the five-alarm fire, an FDNY spokesman said. The blaze was first reported around 6:51 p.m. and it took firefighters three minutes to arrive on the scene, according to Nigro. It was brought under control around 9:15 p.m.
At least 12 other people were rescued from the 25-unit building, where the fire started on the first floor and spread quickly, according to de Blasio and Nigro. An FDNY official said the fire's quick ascent through the building was like smoke through a chimney.
Thierno Diallo, 59, said he was sleeping inside his basement apartment when he smelled smoke and someone banged on the door and yelled, "Fire, fire, fire, get out!" He made a dash for safety without putting on socks or grabbing his cellphone.
"Somebody from Gambia gave me warm pants and socks. I just came out in my bathrobe," Diallo said. "I did everything to save my life."
Due to the freezing weather, residents who were displaced by the fire were temporarily placed on an MTA bus parked on the corner of Southern Boulevard and East 187th Street and given Red Cross blankets to keep warm.
Eric Phillips, the mayor's press secretary, said families affected by the fire should go to Crotona International High School, located at 2474 Crotona Ave., where housing services and support are being provided. The Red Cross has also set up a command center at the school.
The injured were taken to Saint Barnabas and Jacobi hospitals, according to the mayor.
"I want to thank all of our first responders for their fast response, and for saving the lives they did," de Blasio said. "I want to thank all the medical personnel at Saint Barnabas and Jacobi hospitals, who are doing so much right now to save the lives of the injured."
Ana Laureano, 54, lives in the neighborhood and works as a parent coordinator for P.S. 205, which is right across the street from where the fire broke out.
"It's a horrible tragedy,” she said. “When you know the family – it's one thing to see it on the TV, but when you might know them, it's different ... So, I'm praying they're OK."
The city has activated its Unified Victim Identification System in response to the fire. Anyone concerned about the welfare of someone who may have been affected can call 311 or 212-639-9675.
With Rajvi Desai and Joan Gralla