New York City's deadliest residential fire in decades apparently began as a child played with a stove then spread quickly throughout a Bronx apartment building, killing 12 people and leaving four others fighting for their lives.
- Early investigations suggest the fire was started by a child playing with a stove
- The blaze spread, killing 12 people and leaving more in hospital
- Police have confirmed four children were among the victims
The fire, the deadliest in the city in a quarter of a century, broke out on the first floor of a brick building and quickly spread upstairs, killing people on multiple floors, the New York City Fire Department said.
"What we think at this point is that unfortunately it emanated from an accident, a young child playing with a stove on the first floor of the building," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in an interview with WNYC radio.
Authorities said the boy was three-and-a-half years old.
"The fire got started, the mother was not aware of it, was alerted by the young man screaming. She exited her apartment with her two-year-old and three-year-old and left the door open," New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
The child had a history of fiddling with the stove in his family's apartment, his mother told officials investigating the fire.
The New York Police Department said those who died included girls ages one, two and seven, and a boy. His age was not given.
Two of the dead were found in a bathtub, according to cable news channel NY1.
Authorities said firefighters rescued 12 people from the building and four people were in hospital in a critical condition.
"We're in the midst right now of the worst month for loss of life in our city from fire in the past ten years," Mr Nigro said.
"It is the time of year where people celebrate and certainly here we have people who have lost their lives, lost their homes, lost everything and we grieve with them as everyone in this city should and does."
Some tenants of the building climbed down fire escapes, but the flames moved so fast that many never made it out of their apartments.
Witnesses described seeing burned bodies being carried away on stretchers and young girls who had escaped standing barefoot outside in the cold with no coats.
More than 160 firefighters responded to the four-alarm blaze.
The building, with 26 apartments, has at least six open building code violations, according to city records.
One violation was for a broken smoke detector in an apartment on the first floor, reported in August.
It was not clear if the detector had been fixed or replaced or whether it had played any role in the fire.
"I know there were concerns raised about the building itself," Mr de Blasio told WNYC.
"Based on the research we have at this moment, it does not appear there was anything problematic about the building or the fire safety in the building."
The building is in the Belmont section of the Bronx, a primarily residential, close-knit neighbourhood known as the "Little Italy" of the borough, near Fordham University and the Bronx Zoo.
Excluding the September 11 attacks, it was the worst fire in the city since 87 people were killed at a social club fire in the Bronx in 1990.
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