Nineteen people, including nine children, have been killed in an apartment fire in New York City, in what the city’s fire commissioner called one of the worst blazes in recent memory.
“This is going to be one of the worst fires that we have witnessed during modern times,” he said.
Stefan Ringel, a senior adviser to mayor Eric Adams, confirmed the death toll on Sunday to the Associated Press, while a city official, who was not authorised to speak publicly, confirmed the number of children dead.
More than 60 people were injured and 13 people were still in critical condition in the hospital, Ringel said.
The majority of victims were suffering from severe smoke inhalation, FDNY Commissioner, Daniel Nigro, said at a press conference earlier that afternoon.
According to the FDNY, approximately 200 firefighters responded to the scene at the Bronx’s Twin Park apartments, a 19-storey building on East 181st Street.
News photographers at the scene captured images of firefighters entering the upper floors of the burning building on a ladder, multiple limp children being given oxygen after being carried from the building and evacuees with their faces covered in soot.
Firefighters “found victims on every floor and were taking them out in cardiac and respiratory arrest,” Nigro said. “That is unprecedented in our city.”
Nigro compared the severity of the fire to the Happy Land social club fire, which killed 87 people in 1990 when a man set fire to the building after getting into an argument with his former girlfriend and being thrown out of the club.
According to Nigro, Sunday’s fire originated in a duplex apartment spanning the second and third floors.
Firefighters found the door to the apartment open, he said, which apparently allowed the fire to accelerate and spread smoke upward quickly.
The fire is not believed to be suspicious in origin but the cause is under investigation.
A resident of the building, Cristal Diaz, 27, told the New York Post she was drinking coffee in her living room when she smelled the smoke.
“We started putting water on towels and the bottom of the door. Everything was crazy,” she said. “We didn’t know what to do. We looked out the windows and saw all the dead bodies they were taking with the blankets.”
Sunday’s blaze came just days after a Philadelphia house fire killed 12 people, including eight children, was the deadliest fire at a US residential apartment building since 2017 when 13 people died in an apartment in the Bronx neighbourhood of New York City, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association.
That fire started after a three-year-old boy was playing with stove burners.
The deadliest fire prior to that was in 1989 when a Tennessee apartment building fire claimed the lives of 16 people.