Authorities believe that a Bronx apartment fire that killed 12 people was started by a toddler on the first floor who was playing with the gas jets on the family stove.
The 3-year-old has been blamed for the fire that killed a dozen neighbors in a five-story Belmont building and left four others in critical condition and also left 22 families without a home.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the five-alarm blaze was intensified when the mother of the boy grabbed her children and ran from the apartment leaving the door wide open.
Their apartment was near the stairwell and with the door open, the smoke and flames went up the stairs like a chimney and cut off the main escape route and trapped people inside their apartments.
Firefighters were on scene in three minutes but even their quick response was too late to save many in the city’s deadliest fire since 1990 when the Happy Land arson blaze killed 87 people.
“The stairs acted like a chimney, and took the fire so quickly upstairs that people had very little time to react,” Nigro said at a Friday news conference.
“They couldn’t get back down the stairs. Those that tried, a few of them perished. … Most of the deaths occurred pretty early, some of them before we could arrive.”
The flames were further fanned when those trapped became desperate and opened their windows to try to escape via the fire escapes.
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Survivors of the fire gathered at St. Barnabas Hospital which is where many of the injured were taken and some others were declared dead.
“There were families in shock,” stated Rev. Jonathan Morris, who spent the night at the hospital with victims. “They just wanted to hug each other and pray.”
Some of the victims included a woman and her 7-month-old granddaughter; a mother and her two daughters who were aged 2 and 7; and a 12-year-old boy.
The boy who started the fire escaped with his mother and 2-year-old sibling. The FDNY has said the child who started the blaze began screaming as the flames began to spread through the kitchen.
“Fire!” he screamed. “Fire!”
The grandmother of Amora Serenity Vidal, an infant who lost her life, was incensed that the mother of the toddler left her son unattended in the kitchen when he has a history of playing with the stove.
“She should have been watching her kid,” said Nyvia Vidal, 47. “I’m an angry grandmother. This is all her fault. You have to watch your children. This didn’t have to happen.”
Nigro said the little boy “had a history of playing with the burners and turning them on. Before the mother knew it, this fire had gotten a good hold in the kitchen … A lot of fire, a lot of smoke.”