For some New Yorkers, the devastating fire that erupted in a Bronx high-rise apartment building 10 days ago evoked an earlier era, when fires were endemic.

In the 1970s, wide swaths of the Bronx were destroyed by fires: in 44 of the borough’s 289 census tracts (an area containing anywhere from 1,200 to 8,000 people), more than 50% of the buildings were lost between 1970 and 1980, according to journalist Joe Flood, author of “‘The Fires: How a Computer Formula, Big Ideas, and the Best of Intentions Burned Down New York City – and Determined the Future of Cities.” In seven tracts, 97% of the buildings burned down.

Much of the destruction was a result of neglect and under-investment in poor communities, as well as the elimination of fire stations due to budget cuts, Flood said in an interview with WNYC/Gothamist. The cramped and aged housing stock made the Bronx an unforgiving target for what must have seemed like a never-ending cycle of spectacular fires.

But for many people beyond the affected areas, the underlying systemic issues took a back seat to the spectacle of burning buildings and mountains of rubble.

As was typical of the time, a reporter covering President Jimmy Carter’s visit to the borough callously referred to Carter’s 1977 tour of “the wasteland” of the South Bronx. And the image of an out-of-control urban area was etched into the minds of many Americans during that year’s World Series just a week later, when a TV camera zoomed out beyond Yankee Stadium and captured a fire in progress.

While the number of fire-related deaths in New York has remained below 100 for each of the last 16 years, FDNY officials noted there were years during the 1970s that as many as 300 New Yorkers died from fires.

“There were many families who were burned out of apartment after apartment after apartment, and they slept with bags packed, with shoes on their feet,” Flood said.

He argued that the appearance of building residents on the street, soon after a fire began, led to victim-blaming: How else could they have emerged so quickly, unless they were setting the fires themselves?

“Unfortunately, the actual victims, and the specifics on what was going wrong, and the specifics of how to address these problems, really got lost,” Flood said.

Now, the heavy toll from the January 9th fire in the Bronx brings more anguish.

“We are all hurt,” neighbor Ramatu Ahmed told Gothamist at a vigil for victims of the fire at 333 E. 181st St., which killed 17 people, including eight children. “By the time you stop your conversation, you end up crying. Seventeen people, it’s just too much.”

Much has changed since the 1970s: Buildings now have stricter codes, and require smoke alarms, which the National Fire Prevention Association called “the biggest single factor” in the nearly 50% decline in fire-related deaths nationally since 1980.

There’s also more public education about fire hazards, including the importance of ensuring self-closing apartment doors do just that. City officials have said that doors left open in the Jan. 9 fire allowed smoke and fire to spread.

But some things haven’t changed over the many years, namely the connection between poverty and deadly fires. Last week’s fatal fire in the 19-story apartment building in the Tremont section started with a space heater, officials said. The use of supplemental heat sources is more than twice as common in low-income neighborhoods as it is in wealthier ones, according to city data.

“It started because the heat was insufficient in the building,” said Raun Rasmussen, the executive director at Legal Services NYC.

“We’ve represented lots of people who, because the gas is out in their building, they don’t have heat, they don’t have hot water, they might not have a stove that works, which leads them to try to use an electric hot plate, which means that they are creating another kind of danger in their apartment that might lead to a fire,” Rasmussen said.

Although there is recourse for tenants in these situations, Rasmussen said the option of going to court creates a financial burden or requires a time commitment that is more difficult for people in working-class jobs.

For immigrants, the hurdles are even greater.

Tenants who are undocumented often have to suffer through cold weather because they’re scared of retaliation from landlords, said Diya Basu-Sen, the executive director of SapnaNYC, an organization that represents working-class South Asian immigrants.

Some landlords, she said, keep the temperature low in an effort to drive tenants out, in hopes of luring higher-paying tenants. The city legally requires landlords to maintain a minimum temperature of 62 degrees overnight and 68 degrees during the day in the winter.

“We really need the city to step up and create affordable housing options for community members,” said Basu-Sen. “And also, to take these violations more seriously and to follow up and to make sure there are expectations, that if you are a landlord you have to meet these and that it’s just not a small fine if you are putting people’s lives at risk, that there’s more consequence than that.”

Otherwise, she said, the sort of tragedy that struck the Bronx “becomes inevitable when you continually disinvest in these communities.”

Right now, the city is paying close attention to what happened in the Bronx, the scene of yet another fatal fire Tuesday. At least one person was killed when a home on Fox Street in the Longwood section exploded in flames.

People who’ve lived through other fire tragedies in the city worry that the attention will move away.

Andrew Sokolof-Diaz helps run the tenants association for an apartment complex at 89-97 34th Ave. in Jackson Heights, Queens, which erupted in flames last April. Hundreds of residents were displaced, prompting Sokolof-Diaz to petition then-Mayor Bill de Blasio during his regular appearances on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC.

In response, de Blasio made an announcement: Displaced residents would be offered affordable housing.

“It is permanent affordable housing, affordable for the incomes of these families,” he said in June 2021.

“I'd like us as New Yorkers to recognize the level of compassion in this city,” he added. “This is quite exceptional.”

However, at this point, Sokolof-Diaz said, families displaced by that fire continue to seek safe and affordable housing.

“And so here we are, nine months later, we were promised this, and the reality is that the city has failed us,” Sokolof-Diaz said.

He worries that survivors of the Bronx fire will face a similar outcome. The solution, he argued, is an end to the city’s affordable housing crisis. Unless that happens, people won’t be safe and the cycle will continue.