A 3-year-old playing with a stove started the deadliest fire in New York City in more than 25 years, officials said Friday.
The flames spread rapidly to the other floors, killing 12 people, including five children, as the 25-unit, five-story building was turned into a scene of horror.
The fire began in the kitchen of a first floor apartment just before 7 p.m. as the boy’s mother was in the other room, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters.
The mother was alerted by the child’s screams and fled the apartment with the boy and another young child, leaving the door open, Nigro said. Though the firefighters arrived in about three minutes of being alerted, the blaze tore through the building’s stairway on the frigid winter night.
"The stairway acted like a chimney," Nigro said. "It took the fire so quickly upstairs that people had very little time to react. They couldn’t get back down the stairs. Those that tried, a few of them perished."
The victims died from both burns and smoke inhalation.
A woman and her two young daughters, ages 2 and 7, and a 19-year-old niece were killed, according to the New York Times, part of a family with 13 members who lived in the building.
"We grieve with them, as everyone in this city should," Nigro said.
Four people taken to the hospital on Thursday night remain critical condition. At least a dozen people survived the fire after being rescued, officials said.
Others escaped or were rescue from fire escapes, Nigro said.
More than 150 firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze, which came amid below-freezing temperatures in New York.
Residents scrambled to leave their apartments and into the cold.
Thierno Diallo, 59, a security guard who lives in a ground floor apartment in the building told the Associated Press that he fled his apartment in his bathrobe after he was woken up by banging on his door.
"Only when I heard people screaming, ‘There’s a fire in the building!’" he said. "I heard somebody, ‘Oh! Fire! Fire! Fire!’"
The fire was the city’s worst since a blaze at a Bronx club killed 87 people in 1990. Another 10 people were killed at a Bronx fire in 2007, nine of them children
On Friday, Nigro said that the open door in the apartment where the blaze started contributed to the fire’s rapid spread.
"You must close the door when you exit, because the results of what happen if you don’t are what happened here last night," he said. Officials said they were told that the boy had a history of playing with stove burners. The department receives some 75-100 complaints about children playing with fire every year, Nigro said.
The building had more than 20 apartments with six open violations, including one for a defective smoke detector in an apartment in the building’s first-floor, according to records on the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
Nigro said that officials were still working to determine whether all the smoke detectors in the building were working.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking on WNYC radio, said that he did not believe that problems with the building were responsible for the fire.
"From what we know right now, there was not a problem with the building," he said.
Other officials took to Twitter to offer their condolences.
"We are closely monitoring the devastating fire in the Bronx. As always we are thankful for our first responders. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families tonight," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo posted via Twitter.