FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the deceased were taken to seven different hospitals, and he explained the revision from 19 to 17 fatalities as the result of a double count in two cases.
However, he said there remain critically injured victims and he braced the community for a possible increase in the death toll.
About 200 firefighters battled the five-alarm blaze that started on the third floor of the 19-story Twin Parks North West apartment building, located at 333 East 181st Street in the Tremont section, just before 11 a.m. Sunday.
At least 44 people were injured, with 13 said to be “clinging to their lives” in nearby hospitals. Several are intubated.
Derick Waller reports on the deadly fire in the Bronx:
Nigro said the FDNY is certain the cause was a malfunctioning electric space heater that set a mattress on fire.
While the fire was contained to the duplex where it started on the second and third floors and the adjacent hallway, the smoke traveled throughout the building. It was the smoke that caused the fatalities.
Mayor Eric Adams said his takeaway from the fire is “close the door,” and that the city would be reminding New Yorkers of that message.
The door to the fire apartment and one on the 15th floor did not shut automatically as they should have, allowing smoke to escape and billow throughout the building.
Mamadou Wague told Eyewitness News reporter Josh Einiger that fire started in his third floor duplex, where he lives with his wife and eight kids, one of whom was trapped on a burning bed.
Wague has burns on his nose from when he leapt through the flames to rescue his daughter, who is burned but alive.
“We were sleeping and my kids were screaming, saying ‘Fire, Fire!'” he said. “So I see the fire in the mattress, and I told everybody, ‘Get out, get out.'”
Smoke alarms were operable, but the open door allowed heavy smoke to spew out through the building and into the stairwells as residents tried to escape.
“They are self closing but the door on 15 and the door to the fire apartment were not functioning as they should,” Nigro said. “The door was not obstructed. The door when fully opened stayed fully opened because it malfunctioned.”
A city official says the building’s owners told them all the doors are self closing and that building workers confirmed the self closing mechanism was operational on the fire apartment door when the lock was repaired last July,
Investigators tested the self closing mechanisms on all doors in the building Sunday and most worked, though the door on the fire apartment did not, as well as a couple others.
Firefighters described a hellish scene.
“It was absolutely horrific,” Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro said. “I talked to many veteran firefighters who said it was the worst fire they had seen in their lives. They were doing CPR on people outside….