A total of 19 people, including 9 children, died in a massive apartment fire that broke out at an apartment building on East 181st Street, New York in what has been described as one of the worst residential fire situations in recent American history. 63 people have been injured in the flames.
At least 200 firefighters responded to the blaze, which broke out just before 11:00 AM local time, on the second and third floors of a 19-story building just several blocks west of the Bronx Zoo.
"We know that we have 19 people who are confirmed dead, as well as several others in critical condition," New York City Mayor Eric Adams told CNN. "This is going to be one of the worst fires in our history," he said.
"Join me in praying for those we lost, especially the 9 innocent young lives that were cut short," he added in a later tweet.
New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters that physical evidence collected by fire Marshalls after the blaze had died down showed that the origin of the flames was a faulty electric heater that was placed in the bedroom of one of the flats. This was corroborated by witness testimony from those who were rescued, he said.
The door of the apartment where the fire started was left open, allowing flames and smoke to spread, he said. Since the building had to fire escape, the residents were forced to battle thick smoke and flames to get out, most of them trapped on balconies and screaming for rescue according to videos posted on social media.
The smoke created by the fire was 'unprecedentedly' dense which caused havoc and created another obstacle for firefighters, Commissioner Nigro said. Many of the rescued residents suffered from severe aftereffects of smoke inhalation, asphyxiation and even cardiac arrests which could lead to a higher death toll, reported AFP.
"Members found victims on every floor, in stairwells," Nigro told reporters. "The last time we had a loss of life that may be this horrific was a fire which was over 30 years ago, also here in the Bronx," he added.
Sunday's inferno comes just four days after a fire in Philadelphia killed 12 people, including eight children, in a three-story public housing building.