Fire sweeps N.Y. home, kills 8 children, adult

March 09, 2007|By Josh Getlin | Josh Getlin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK -- A three-alarm fire swept through a wooden home in the Bronx, killing eight children and one adult and injuring at least 17. It was the city's deadliest residential blaze in decades, said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Firefighters responded quickly to the fire, which started about 11 p.m. Wednesday, blocks from Yankee Stadium. By then, the bodies of several children and one adult were lying on the ground, officials said. Minutes earlier, neighbors had tried to catch two children who had been dropped from upper windows of the three-story structure by their mother, who then jumped.

The fire in the Highbridge section of the Bronx, a neighborhood largely populated by African immigrants, was extinguished two hours later, officials said. There were at least 22 people living in the home, all members of two families from Mali, in West Africa.

"It's terrible for anyone to perish like this, and sometimes it's more painful and unfair when it's children who died," Bloomberg said at an early morning news conference near the site. "When children die, everyone who loved them dies a little bit as well."

Neighbors described a chaotic scene shortly after fire engulfed the building. A witness who identified himself only as Andre said a woman appeared in the window, screaming, "My children, my God!" shortly before she dropped two of them to people below and then jumped herself. "It was a terrible scene. She fell to the ground and broke her leg and then began bleeding profusely," he said.

Elaine Martin said she saw another woman, shoeless and in a nightgown, on the street. She was shivering in the bitter cold and frantic about her children.

"My kids is in there, my kids is in there," Martin quoted her as saying. As the woman screamed, children began jumping from the building.

Of the victims, seven were boys and one a girl; two were infants and all were younger than 10, officials said. Among the dead, witnesses said, were the wife and three children of Mamadou Soumara, a cabdriver who sped home after receiving a cell-phone call. The five other children who died were from the family of businessman Moussa Madassa. Family members were attempting to notify him yesterday in Mali and arrange for his return.

Distraught friends and family members kept a vigil at hospitals where the injured were taken. Several, including three children under 8, were in critical condition, hospital officials said.

Bourema Niambele, a member of the Malian Association, visited with family members at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx and told reporters: "When something like this happens, all you can do is believe in God. ... You try to figure out how to go on, what it means."

Bloomberg said the fire appeared to have been caused by a space heater that was plugged into an overheated power strip. The building did not appear to have any code violations, but there were no fire escapes, and the two smoke detectors were not operating because they did not have batteries, the mayor said.

Residents might have lost precious seconds because they did not call 911 immediately after the fire started in the basement but instead tried to extinguish it, officials said. They fled the building but did not close the basement door, enabling the fire to spread to upper floors, where other residents were trapped in bedrooms.

Josh Getlin writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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