According to the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), all 17 victims of the fire at an apartment building in the Bronx last Sunday (9) died from smoke inhalation.
The manner of death was determined to be an “accident” for all of them, said Cabinet public affairs director Julie Bolcer.
Investigations found that an electric heater ignited a fire in a duplex apartment, causing the entire 19-story building to be engulfed in smoke. Firefighters said the smoke was able to spread because the door to that apartment and the door to the stairs to the 15th floor were left open, although the doors were supposed to close automatically.
Some residents of the building who survived the fire were able to return to their top-floor apartments, New York City Emergency Management (NYCEM) told CNN this Tuesday (11).
“Some residents are now able to return to apartments on the upper floors,” said spokeswoman Ines Bebea. “The process is ongoing and evolving.”
Authorities have not released a timeline for when or how many people will re-enter the building, as the building’s management is notifying residents individually and is “in no rush to get people back to their apartments,” Bebea said.
New York City Department of Buildings records show that, as of Tuesday, the building is listed with a Partial Eviction Order after a structural stability inspection was conducted on Monday.
The return of some residents comes as authorities seek long-term solutions to ensure a similar tragedy never happens again.
“The two values that matter most to all of us are our families and our homes, and losing both in a single tragedy is terrifying and traumatic in a way few of us can imagine,” said Representative Ritchie Torres, who represents the area where fire occurred at CNN.
Eight children were among the 17 victims of Sunday’s fire. A survey of CNN with local hospitals shows that at least eight patients are still hospitalized, while at least 25 people have been treated and released.
Problems with smoke alarms and doors
At the moment, the building’s doors and reports of faulty smoke alarms are the focus of the investigation.
The condition of the structure will also be a focal point for a task force of federal, state and local leaders who say they are focused on policies and laws that can prevent further tragedies.
Torres announced the task force on Monday alongside Bronx District President Vanessa Gibson and city council members Oswald Feliz and Pierina Sanchez.
“There are underlying issues that we face on a daily basis with fire alarms, water shower systems, emergency exits, heating, hot water, and other basic necessities that every New York City resident and tenant should have,” Gibson said.
The focus on new legislation is part of a four-pronged plan by the leaders, which also includes ensuring permanent housing for those whose units have been destroyed, so that the displaced can return to their units as quickly as possible and provide all the services needed to those affected.
In addition to reviewing New York laws requiring self-closing doors, Torres said the group will also investigate whether current minimum heating requirements are sufficient. The Bronx building’s heating appeared to be working, Torres said, but residents still felt the need to use electric heaters in their apartments to keep warm.
Built in 1972, the building was funded by the federal government, so it may have been built outside of New York City’s fire code, fire spokesman Daniel Nigro said Sunday, adding that this is unlikely to have been a factor. determinant in the cause of the fire.
At a press conference on Monday, representatives of the New York Fire Union confirmed that the building was not required to adhere to the city’s fire codes.
“We have to make it clear in federal law that federal developments, developments regulated and subsidized by the federal government, must be subject to local fire codes, housing and building codes. Every American should have access to safe and affordable housing, including fire-protected housing.” CNN.
Survivors battled column of smoke
Residents of the 120-apartment building said the fire alarms in the building often failed, so when they sounded on Sunday morning, Daisy Mitchell told CNN who “didn’t care”.
However, Mitchell’s husband began to smell burning in his tenth-floor unit, and then they encountered a plume of smoke when they left the apartment to see what was going on.
“I went to the stairs, opened the door, and the smoke threw me into the house,” he added. “If I had stayed there for three more seconds, I would have died too.”
Karen Dejesus lives on the same floor as the first apartment that caught fire and said the flames invaded her residence.
“I could see the flames, I could see the smoke and everything was coming into my apartment,” Dejesus said.
Dejesus said firefighters broke down the door to her apartment to rescue her, along with her granddaughter and son. They had to jump through a window to escape the flames.
She also reported that fire alarms in the building would often go off without there actually being a fire in the building.
“Many of us were used to hearing the fire alarm go off, so it was like a natural for us,” she said. “It wasn’t until I actually saw the smoke coming through the door that I realized it was a real fire and I heard people screaming help, help, help.”
Mamadou Wague, another resident of the building, said he was woken up on Sunday morning by the sound of his children screaming: “Fire! Fire!”
Wague lives on the third floor of the building with his eight children, who range from 6 months to 18 years old.
His family was unable to flee the building because there was so much smoke, he said. Terrified, they waited in a neighbor’s apartment, putting wet towels under the doors, until firefighters arrived 15 to 30 minutes later to escort them down the stairs.
Wague, an Uber driver from Mali who immigrated to the United States in 2000, said the fire burned all of his family’s belongings.
“It’s all gone in my apartment,” he said. “Everything is gone.”
The Red Cross provided emergency housing for 22 families, taking in 56 adults and 25 children, the group said in a statement.
“Worried and Devastated”
Authorities have not yet released the names of those who died, but people who have not yet heard from their loved ones are already expecting the worst.
Yusupha Jawara told the CNN who has been trying to reach his brother and sister-in-law since he learned about the fire, but they are not answering their phones.
“I am totally worried and devastated. Not just me, but our entire community and family in general. Everyone is worried. We don’t know what happened… That’s the hardest thing, not knowing anything,” Jawara said.
Nfamar Kebe said at least one of his relatives died in the fire, and that his nephew’s 2-year-old son is hospitalized fighting for his life.
But Kebe, who came to the United States from Guinea 35 years ago, said the building is home to many West African immigrants who have become part of his family.
“We are a community,” he says. “When we meet here, we are the same family.”
Many of those in the building were Muslim immigrants from the Republic of The Gambia, a West African country. The country’s ambassador told CNN that the building has been a beloved home for many of these immigrants over the years.
“I believe that many Gambians who came here stayed in that building before moving anywhere else,” said Ambassador Dawda Docka Fadera. “He was sort of the first point on the scale. It is a building that Gambians are very attached to,” he concluded.
This content was originally created in English.
Reference: CNN Brasil