A fire broke out Thursday night in an apartment building in the Bronx in New York, killing at least 12 people and leaving four others fighting for their lives, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
It was later determined that the fire was accidentally caused by a child playing with a stove.
Among the victims were four children, including a 7-month-old, and eight adults. The deceased were identified by police Saturday as Shantay Young, 19; Karen Francis, 37; Kylie Francis, 2; Charmela Francis, 7; Gabriel Yaw Sarkookie, 48; Emmanuel Mensah, 28; Justice Opoku, 54; Maria Batiz, 58; Amora Batiz, 7 months; Solomon Donkor, 49, Hannah Donkor, 17; and William Donkor.
The fire began in a kitchen on the first floor of the building because of a 3 1/2-year-old boy who was playing with burners on the stove, Daniel Nigro, the commissioner of New York City Fire Department (FDNY), said Friday.
His mother was not aware of the fire until the boy began screaming, Nigro said. She exited the apartment with her two children, but left the door open so the fire spread quickly up the stairs, according to the commissioner.
"The stairway acted like a chimney," Nigro said. "It took the fire so quickly upstairs that people had very little time to react. They couldn't get back down the stairs and those that tried — a few of them perished."
Others escaped and some were helped out on to the fire escape, where they were rescued by fire crews.
Nigro said firefighters got to the scene within three minutes and entered the building "bravely," saving a number of residents, but added that "this loss is unprecedented."
"This is the worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city in at least a quarter century based on the information we have now," de Blasio said Thursday night. "This will rank as one of the worst losses of life to a fire in many, many years."
The fire began around 7 p.m. in a building on Prospect Avenue near the Bronx Zoo, the FDNY said.
Firefighters helped 12 people out of the burning building, officials said. At least 15 people were treated for injuries.
"I want to thank all of our first responders for their fast response," de Blasio said. "I want to thank them for saving the lives they did."
The fire was extinguished around 8:30 p.m., PIX 11 reported.
Witnesses described the frantic scramble to escape the building into the frigid night, with residents clamoring down fire escapes.
One distraught woman who declined to give her name told the New York Times that she escaped with her daughter and pulled two neighbor children from the fire.
"I had one on my front and one on my back," she told the paper. “I couldn’t carry the rest of them.
The fire erupted as New York experiences frigid winter conditions, with temperatures dipping into the teens.
The Bronx was the scene of another deadly apartment fire in 2007, when nine children and one adult died in a blaze that officials said was caused by a space heater.
According to records kept by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, a notice of violation was sent to the building's owner in August regarding defective smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in a first-floor apartment.
City officials said the building was required to have self-closing doors and that investigators will look at whether the first-floor door was either defective or was obstructed from closing as the fire broke out.