A 3-year-old boy fiddling with a stove ignited the raging blaze that killed a dozen people, including four kids under the age of seven, inside a Bronx apartment building, officials said.
The child’s mother, in rushing to safety with her son and her 2-year-old, left their apartment door open — creating a lethal condition where flames shot up the stairway of the five-story building in mere seconds.
“The stairs acted like a chimney, and took the fire so quickly upstairs that people had very little time to react,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro told a Friday news conference outside the building.
“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 fast-moving flames were further whipped by desperate residents opening their windows to escape via the fire escape, stoking the already raging blaze.
High-ranking FDNY sources said the panicked little boy began screaming after the flames started spreading in the kitchen.
“Fire!” he howled. “Fire!”
According to Nigro, there were 20 building residents outside on the fire escapes when the FDNY arrived about three minutes after the first 911 call on the blaze
It was the deadliest fire tragedy to strike the city in more than 25 years. Five of the victims were found dead inside the century-old building, and Nigro blamed a combination of the flames and heavy smoke for the dozen deaths in the Belmont section.
A 2-year-old and a 1-year-old infant girl found in the arms of a woman seeking refuge in a bathtub were among the dead in the Thursday night blaze on Prospect Ave. near E. 187th St.
Mayor de Blasio, on his weekly Friday radio show, described the Christmas week carnage as “a horrible, tragic accident.”
“It does not appear that there was anything problematic about the building or the fire safety in the building,” the mayor said.
Fire survivor Reginal Ramdhanie, 51, recounted a terrifying scene where people were trapped inside their apartments because the fire escapes were full — with no one directing the evacuees to the ground.
“There was no room for people to come out,” he said. “I helped most people come down from the second and third floor.”
Two other residents recounted spending 30 harrowing minutes on the fire escapes after the blaze erupted around 7 p.m. Thursday.
The 3-year-old boy, who had a history of playing with the burners, was alone in the kitchen when he started turning the jets on and off, said Nigro.
“Before the mother knew it, the fire had a good hold in the kitchen,” the commissioner said. “She grabbed the children and ran out.”
But the mom left the apartment door open in her haste, with the flames spreading quickly into the hallway and then up the stairwell to the top floor almost instantaneously.
As firefighters fought back the blaze, they found a 1-year-old baby girl dead next to a 63-year-old woman. Three unidentified men were also found dead in the building, officials said.
The 2-year-old girl pulled from the building died at St. Barnabas Hospital, along with a 7-year-old girl, a 19-year-old woman, a 37-year-old woman and an unidentified woman, officials said.
An unidentified man and child taken out of the fire died at Jacobi Medical Center, authorities said. None of the names of the victims authorities have identified were immediately released.
Mothers and their children could be seen frantically scrambling down building fire escapes after the fire broke out.
Many of the victims wore just shorts and shirts on as they raced outside, bracing themselves against the frigid 12-degree temperatures.
There were reports that the first floor had no working smoke detectors as recently as a month ago.
Nigro said the building was fitted with smoke alarms, but it was unclear if all were working.
The apartment house was sold by the city for $31,029 in December 1983, five years after the property was seized for non-payment of taxes.