Families, neighbors, and others mourned Wednesday night's fire that gutted a 4-story Bronx home and claimed the lives of nine people, including eight children. Fire officials investigated the Highbridge section structure, which was home to twenty-two Malian immigrants and believed that a space heater on the garden floor bedroom overheated and caused the fire, which spread uncontrollably due to what the NY Times calls "the most basic of human oversights and seemingly innocuous events." The space heater apparently ignited clothes and mattresses.
When seeing the fire in her bedroom Naralee Magassa called her sister-in-law Manthia Magassa, who lived on the second floor, instead of calling 911. She took her daughter outside, but then went back inside to warn others. When Naralee Magassa went upstairs, she also left her bedroom door open, which allowed the fire to travel upstairs in a "chimney-like effect." The residents tried to put the fire out themselves, and apparently made another phone call before calling 911. The FDNY said the fire "doubled itself every 30 seconds," prompting officials to remind people to call 911 first. (The Daily News has a graphic showing the layout and where people lived in the building.)
The Fire Department arrived 3 minutes and 23 seconds after the 911 call. Apparently firefighters tried to enter the house from the back, but a back fence was locked, so the FDNY had to cut through with bolt cutters. Access from the front of the house was difficult too. There was no visibility and there was fire on the walls, ceiling and floor. As the FDNY worked to put out the fire, many neighbors helped try to rescue the residents, some of whom had jumped or were thrown out of windows. Chief Visconti told the Times, “Everything that could possibly damage this fire operation occurred. If one of them was by itself, it probably would not have been this tragic.”
A contractor had applied for permits to install a sprinkler system and a metal staircase in the home last month, but the work was held up because paperwork was incomplete. There were smoke detectors in the building, but they had no batteries. While fourth-floor resident Mamadou Soumare, a cab driver who was not present during the fire and whose wife and three of his four children were killed, accused the FDNY of not being able to get their water to the house quickly enough (NY Times), the FDNY says their water was running fine. An unnamed firefighter told the Post that more people could have been saved if the FDNY had a "bucket truck," which had been sent to another Bronx fire that night. There will certainly be a lot of fingerpointing, but we're not sure what good it will do - this is simply a terrible tragedy.
The nine victims all died from smoke inhalation. One adult and four children are still in the hospital. Moussa Magassa, whose two wives (marrying multiple times is part of the Malian culture) and eleven children lived on two floors of the building, rushed home from a business trip in Mali - five of his children died in the fire. Magassa's cousin, Soumare, was on the scene yesterday (pictured, middle right) and wept, "I don't know what I am going to do. I love her. I love my wife. That's my love. They died, nobody is here."
There is also criticism that Mayor Bloomberg should have stayed in the city and not have traveled to Miami to discuss sustainable transportation ideas. While we agree that the Mayor does lack a human touch much of the time, we don't think he needs to be present. City Councilman Jose Rivera of the Bronx told the Post, "I have faith that they're [city officials] going to do what they need to do. We really can't expect the mayor to be everywhere at the same time. He's between a rock and a hard place."
The Daily News is taking up a collection to give to the families. The News also has an article about Mali, where the families were from, spoke to first responders and has a column by Michael Daly about the deadly space heater cord. The Times looks at the victims and what happened during the fire; there is also an interactive graphic showing how the fire spread and where people died.
Photographs by Louis Lanzano/AP