NEW YORK (AP) — Six family members, including four children, were killed early Wednesday when a fire that apparently started on a stove ravaged a Harlem apartment, authorities said.
Firefighters, who were called at about 1:40 a.m., pushed quickly and aggressively into the flames and thick smoke and found a man and a woman, as well as two girls and two boys ages 3-11, in bedrooms of the fifth-floor apartment, according to Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. They were pronounced dead by emergency medical technicians.
"Preliminarily we believe the fire was an accident and that it started in the kitchen on the stove, quickly extended out of the kitchen and eventually involved every room in this apartment including the two rooms where the victims were found," Nigro said at a briefing.
"We're in the lifesaving business and we take this very personally when we're unable to save this family," Nigro added.
"It's horrible to look at, and as a father just thinking that yesterday evening four children went to bed and they're gone now is very, very painful," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
The head of the New York City Housing Authority, Kathryn Garcia, said a battery-operated smoke detector in the apartment had been tested in January.
Television reports showed neighbors standing in a circle and praying outside the Frederick E. Samuel Houses.
"I was trapped in my building, in my apartment until the fire department came and got me out," a resident, Patricia Flowers, told the Associated Press hours after the fire. "I have a mom, and I didn't know what to do to get her out. So it was very frightening."
"I woke up in the middle of night after hearing the fire truck and I could see the fire and it was so hot, even from across here it was so hot," said Deborah Belton, who lives across the street.
"As the fire was burning I was hearing one of the little girls screaming," fourth-floor resident Eric Allen told the New York Post . "They were beautiful kids."
Abdul Salaam, 25, told the Post that he saw the flames from the street and called 911.
"I heard glass breaking, kids yelling," said Salaam. "They were clearly in fear for their lives."
One resident said that he and his 75-year-old mother, who live on the fifth floor, fled down a fire escape.
"There was so much smoke you couldn't even see," Geraldo Morales told the Post. "The smoke — I got asthma — so it was like I was getting suffocated."
Several people suffered minor injuries when the building was being evacuated.