NEW YORK (AP) - A preschooler toying with the burners on his motherâ€™s stove accidentally sparked New York Cityâ€™s deadliest fire in decades, an inferno that quickly overtook an apartment building and blocked the main escape route, the fire commissioner said Friday.
A dozen people died, and four others were fighting for their lives a day after the flames broke out in the century-old building near the Bronx Zoo.
The 3Â˝-year-old-boy, his mother and another child were able to flee their first-floor apartment. But they left the door open behind them, and it acted like a chimney that drew smoke and flames into a stairwell. From there, the fire spread throughout the five-story building, authorities said.
At least 20 people scrambled out via fire escapes on a bitterly cold night, but others could not.
â€śPeople had very little time to react,â€ť Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. Firefighters arrived in just over three minutes and saved some people, but â€śthis loss is unprecedented.â€ť
Fernando Batiz said his 56-year-old sister, Maria Batiz, and her 8-month-old granddaughter also died, though the babyâ€™s mother survived.
â€śThe smoke, I guess, overcame her. Everything happened so quick,â€ť Batiz said. He described his sister, a home care attendant, as a selfless person who helped him when he was homeless.
â€śI donâ€™t know what to think. Iâ€™m still in shock,â€ť he said.
One family lost four members: Karen Stewart-Francis, her daughters, 2-year-old Kiley Francis and 7-year-old Kelly Francis, and their cousin, 19-year-old Shawntay Young, relatives said. Stewart-Francisâ€™ husband, Holt Francis, was hospitalized, the family said.
â€śI donâ€™t know what to do, and I donâ€™t know how to feel,â€ť said Stewart-Francisâ€™ mother, Ambrozia Stewart. â€śFour at one time - what do I do?â€ť
Young lived in the basement but had gone upstairs to visit Stewart-Francis in her fifth-floor apartment, said Youngâ€™s boyfriend, Kenyon George.
â€śThe first story I heard is that she was up top and she couldnâ€™t get down,â€ť said George, 19, fighting back tears.