(CNN) — A major fire in a residential apartment building in the Bronx in New York City on Sunday left 19 people dead, including 9 children, in what Mayor Eric Adams described as one of the worst fires the city has experienced in modern times.
The blaze sent 32 people to hospitals with life-threatening conditions, Daniel Nigro, commissioner of the New York City Fire Department, said earlier Sunday. A total of 63 people were injured.
A “malfunctioning electric space heater” was the source of the fire, Nigro said during a press conference. The heater was in the bedroom of an apartment, and the fire consumed the room and then the entire apartment, he said.
The apartment door was left open and smoke spread throughout the building when the residents left their unit, Nigro said.
“This is a horrific, horrific, painful moment for the city of New York, and the impact of this fire is going to really bring a level of just pain and despair in our city,” Adams said.
About 200 members of the New York City Fire Department responded to the fire at the 19-story building at 333 East 181st Street. The fire began a little before 11 a.m. in a duplex apartment on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building, the FDNY said.
Firefighters were met by “very heavy smoke, very heavy fire” in the hallways.
Victims were found in stairways on every floor of the building, many in cardiac arrest, in what Nigro said could be an unprecedented loss of life. The injuries were predominantly from smoke inhalation, he said.
Firefighters kept attempting to save people from the building despite running out of air tank, Nigro said. Some of the residents who were trying to leave the building could not “escape because of the volume of smoke.”
The FDNY posted several images of the scene showing ladders extending into apartment windows as well as a number of broken windows.
“This is going to be one of the worst fires that we have witnessed during modern times here in the city of New York,” Adams said.
“I am horrified by the devastating fire in the Bronx today,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Twitter. “My heart is with the loved ones of all those we’ve tragically lost, all of those impacted and with our heroic FDNY firefighters. The entire State of New York stands with New York City.”
The residential apartment where the fire occurred is 50 years old and has 120 units, according to building records.
There have not been any major building violations or complaints listed against the building, according to city building records. Past minor violations were rectified by the property and there were no structural violations listed.
Apartment fire impacts Muslim and immigrant community
The building where the fire occurred housed a largely Muslim population, Adams said, with many immigrants from Gambia, a small nation on the west coast of Africa.
The mayor said that one priority will be to make sure that Islamic funeral and burial rites are respected. Another will be to seek Muslim leaders to connect with residents.
The names of people who request government assistance will not be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Adams added.
“We want people to be comfortable in coming forward, and it’s imperative that we connect with those on the ground to make sure they get that message and that word out,” Adams said.
Christina Farrell, first deputy commissioner of NYC emergency management, told CNN’s Phil Mattingly Sunday that residents who lived in the apartment building are now being housed at a middle school next door.
“We have all the residents here. We’ve been able to give them food, a warm space, water, any short-term needs that they had. People brought their pets and so we are in the process of finding people shelter this evening,” Farrell said. “We work with the Red Cross, we have hotel rooms and have other resources available. And so we will be making sure every family has a safe, warm space to sleep in tonight.”
A service center will be set up Monday, Farrell said.
“We’ll be hopeful that many of them will be able to go back into their apartment in the coming days,” she said. “But for the people that are out long-term, we will work with them and the state to get them appropriate housing.”
Hochul, appearing at a press conference Sunday, said she met with survivors of the fire, including a mother who was her family’s sole survivor.
“It’s impossible to go into that room, where scores of families who are in such grief, who are in pain, and to see it in the mother’s eyes as I held her, who lost her entire family,” she said.
As she prepares her new budget this week, Hochul said she will establish a compensation fund to help provide the victims of the fire with money for housing, burial costs and other necessities.
“Tonight is a night of tragedy and pain, and tomorrow we begin to rebuild,” Hochul said. “We rebuild their lives and give them hope, especially those who came all the way from Africa [from] Gambia in search of a better life right here in this great borough of the Bronx.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also spoke at the conference and said numerous forms of assistance are being examined on the federal level and will include housing and tax assistance as well as and immigration assistance, “so families can be reunited.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the region where Gambia is located. It is in West Africa.
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