A fire that quickly consumed a five-story Bronx apartment building Thursday, Dec. 28, killing 12 and critically injuring several others, was caused by a toddler playing with a stove, New York City fire officials said.
The fire, the deadliest New York City fire in a quarter century, swept through the apartment building “like a chimney,” New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told the press in a news conference outside the building Friday.
The fire was exacerbated by the resident of the Bronx apartment where the fire originated, Commissioner Nigro said. After finding her kitchen in flames, the mother of the 3-year-old boy who started the fire exited the apartment building with her children but left the door open behind her. The open door allowed fresh air to feed the flames with plenty of oxygen, causing a blaze that raged upstairs and left the building’s other residents little time to escape.
Among the 12 people killed in the fire were five children, including three girls ages 1, 2, and 7. The oldest victim was a 63-year-old woman, fire officials said, according to NBC News.
Fourteen other people were injured, including four with critical burn injuries, fire officials said. Two of those wounded were first responders – a firefighter and another emergency responder.
Commissioner Nigro said that the deadly fire demonstrates an important lesson in fire safety. When escaping a fire, “Close the door, close the door, close the door. If unfortunately you do have a fire in your apartment, you must close the door when you exit because the results if you don’t are what happened here last night.”
Despite the open door, questions remain about how the fire spread so quickly in a brick building that was built after a series of catastrophic fires in the city at the turn of the 20th century compelled the city’s authorities to toughen fire codes and their enforcement.
According to NBC News, the Bronx apartment building was built before more recent fire-proofing requirements were introduced, including sprinkler systems and interior steel construction. It is not known if all the building’s smoke alarms were working, Commissioner Nigro told reporters.
There were 25 apartments in the building, which is located near the Bronx Zoo.