Mayor Eric Adams on Monday said 17 people, including 8 children had so far perished in Sunday’s at a high-rise Bronx apartment building — a lower number than the 19 deaths city officials reported Sunday.
At a press conference in the Bronx, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro explained the new numbers resulted after victims were taken to seven different area hospitals.
“There was a bit of a double count,” Nigro said, warning that the death toll could still rise. “Don’t forget there are many people fighting for their lives.”
Earlier in the day, Adams told 1010WINS that 13 people were still in critical condition.
One day after the tragedy, Nigro expressed more certainty that the fire was caused by a malfunctioning space heater in a third floor apartment. Although the fire consumed the apartment and part of the hallway, the commissioner said it was smoke that had killed the victims. Another source, fire officials said, was the apartment door which failed to automatically close after the residents of the unit fled. A city law requires all doors to close automatically so as to prevent fires and smoke from spreading. Other doors in the building appeared to be working properly, Adams told CNN.
But there were still outstanding questions, including around the fire alarms, which some residents have said were prone to going off for no reason. Some said they initially ignored the alarms for that reason.
Nigro also said firefighters discovered several doors, including one of the 15th floor, were left open. He recommended that residents of fire-proof high-rise buildings shelter in place during fires.
A 2018 law required property owners to install self-closing doors in all apartment buildings with three or more units by July 31 of 2021. A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, tasked with enforcing the new law, didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Other experts said additional fire safety measures such as sprinklers would have dampened the flames immediately and prevented such a thick mass of smoke spreading throughout the building. Sprinkler systems are now required in the apartments and hallways of modern high-rises, but older buildings like 333 East 181st Street were not required to retrofit them with sprinklers.
“Modern high rises are built with sprinklers and it saves lives,” said New York architect Michelle Krochmal who consults on city codes. “There are rarely, if any fatalities.”
Consisting of roughly 120 units, the building, known as Twin Park North West, was originally built in 1972 as part of a federally-subsidized Mitchell-Lama affordable housing complex overseen by the state. The building, along with several others in the complex, were purchased in 2020 for $166 million according to reports and property records.
Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin said 75 units in the building were project-based Section 8 vouchers and the state will honor those vouchers at other locations, as needed.
LIHC Investment Group, Belveron Partners and Camber Property group bought the complex together. Rick Gropper of Camber Property Group, who is listed as the lead officer in city records, was also a member of Mayor Eric Adams housing transition team.
The building had no open code violations for doors that didn’t close according to city records, though it reportedly received multiple complaints about the issue in the past, with city records showing at least one such complaint that was closed in December. It also had four outstanding violations for mice and roaches, and for issues with the elevator. Property owners owed an outstanding $5,000 to the city, according to records from the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.
Kelly Magee, a spokesperson for the owners, said they were devastated by the fire and promised to cooperate with city agencies investigating.
“We are doing all we can to assist our residents,” she said. “Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured, and we are here to support them as we recover from this horrific fire.”
Magee said all stairwell and apartment doors in the building are self-closing, according to city code, and added, "There are no open violations or complaints related to self-closing doors at the property."
She said the last door repair for the apartment in question happened on July 27, 2021 and was for "the unit's fire entry door in response to a work order request. At that time, the self-closing mechanism was checked in accordance with standard operating procedure. No further issues about the door were reported to property management since then."
She also said there was no known issue with smoke alarms in the building and the alarm system appears to have worked as designed.
The mayor on Monday spoke of an outpouring of support from around the world for the city and the residents, many of whom were African immigrants. Among those calling were President Joe Biden.
“He sent a strong message that this is on the radar of the entire globe,” Adams said Monday.
The mayor urged New Yorkers not to drop off donations at police precincts or fire stations but instead to donate to the mayor’s fund, which is collecting money for the victims.
He also said the city would redouble its efforts to teach New Yorkers to close doors when escaping a fire.
“This painful moment can turn into a purposeful moment if we send a message as simple as closing the door,” the mayor said.
Clarification: A previous version of this story omitted mentioned of prior complaints at Twin Parks North West about self-closing doors. It has since been updated.