At least 12 people were killed in a fire Thursday night at an apartment building in the Bronx, New York City, in what Mayor Bill de Blasio called the worst fire tragedy in the city in a quarter-century.
Four additional people were critically injured and fire officials are still searching the five-story building where the blaze broke out on the first floor and spread shortly before 7 p.m. ET.
De Blasio called the fire “an unspeakable tragedy.”
“In the middle of the holiday season, a time when families are together, tonight here in the Bronx there are families that have been torn apart,” the mayor said. “This is the worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city in at least a quarter century.”
“Based on the information we have now, this will rank as one of the worst losses of life to a fire in many, many years,” he said.
The call of the fire came in at around 6:51 p.m., fire officials said. The fire is out but firefighters were still searching the building and the death toll could rise, de Blasio said. A child as young as 1 year old was among those killed, he said.
Firefighters also rescued at least 12 people, the mayor said.
First responders had to deal with temperatures in the teens with wind making it feel like the single digits, NBC New York reported. The building is on Prospect Avenue near East 187th Street, near the Bronx Zoo.
Maria Bonilla lives a block away and came over after seeing the fire. She was outside waiting to hear word on a friend’s 8-month-old child. “There was a lot of people coming out in stretchers, burned,” she told reporters at the scene.
“There was fire, really bad fire,” Bonilla said. “It was crazy,” she said.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said that the fire began on the first floor and quickly spread upstairs into the building, which has 25 apartments. People died on various floors, he said.
“In a department that’s certainly no stranger to tragedy, we’re shocked by this loss,” Nigro said.
“This tragedy is without question historic in its magnitude here, and our hearts go out to every family that lost a loved one here and everyone that’s fighting for their lives,” he said.
The ages of the victims range from 1 year old to over 50 years old, he said. A cause of the fire is under investigation. “It’s way too early to tell you anything about that,” he said, but added that more information would be released as firefighters know more.
Neighborhood resident Robert Gonzalez, who has a friend who lives in the building, told the Associated Press that she got out on a fire escape as another resident fled with five children.
“When I got here, she was crying,” Gonzalez said.
Thierno Diallo, 59, a security guard originally from Conakry, Guinea, and who lives in a ground floor apartment, told the AP that he was asleep and heard banging on the door. “I heard people screaming, ‘There’s a fire in the building!'” he said. “I heard somebody, ‘Oh! Fire! Fire! Fire!'”
Diallo said the apartment building has tenants who hail from all over the world.
One of the deadliest fires in recent city memory happened elsewhere in the Bronx in 2007. Nine children and one adult died in a blaze sparked by a space heater, the Associated Press reported.
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