Harlem apartment fire claims 6 lives, including 4 children

May 8, 2019 Updated: May 8, 2019

NEW YORK—Six family members, including four children, were killed early on Wednesday, May 8, 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 to 11, in bedrooms of the fifth-floor apartment, according to Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. They were pronounced dead by emergency medical technicians.

“We’re in the lifesaving business and we take this very personally when we’re unable to save this family,” Nigro said at a briefing hours later.

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Members of the New York Fire Department work near debris from a fire in New York’s Harlem neighborhood on May 8, 2019. (Richard Drew/Photo via AP)

“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.

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Leon Black, a resident of building burned in a fire, visits the scene in New York’s Harlem neighborhood on May 8, 2019. (Richard Drew/Photo via AP)

“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.

Northern Ontario Fire

The fire today in Harlem follows last weeks tragedy, where a mother and four of her children were killed in a house fire in northern Ontario on May 2, leaving the remote community struggling.

There was no immediate word on what caused the early morning fire on the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation.

Chief Donny Morris said every member of the community of roughly 1,000 was affected.

“We are in utter disbelief,” he said in a statement. “Today, our community mourns this tragic loss.”

Sam McKay, a spokesman for the chief and council, said the victims of the fire were a single mother and four of her children—aged six, seven, nine and 12.

The woman had another older daughter who was away when the blaze broke out, he said, adding that three of her children were adopted.

(Screenshot/Google Maps)

“Most everybody is in shock right now,” he said in a telephone interview from the community that is also known as Big Trout Lake. “It’s devastating.”

Rose Anne Archibald, Ontario Regional Chief of the Chiefs of Ontario, said others must act as the community grieves.

“As I continue to reflect on this tragic situation, it is with a sad heart that I realize that this preventable and unnecessary tragedy is affecting yet again another First Nation community,” she said in a statement.

“While we mourn now, we will be looking to seek solutions, with all parties to prevent any future unnecessary deaths of First Nations citizens due to fire.”

Archibald also said she had been in touch with Morris, who had asked community members not to post pictures of the fire or speculate on its cause on social media.

Provincial police are investigating, along with members of the province’s fire marshal’s office, coroner’s office, and forensic pathology service.

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents a collection of Indigenous communities in northwestern Ontario, said a team of crisis and support workers will be sent to the community.

“Our prayers are with the victims, their families, and the entire community during this difficult time,” Fiddler said in a statement.

Both federal and provincial politicians offered their condolences.

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy speaks with the province’s NDP leader Andrea Horwath in Thunder Bay in September 2011. (The Canadian Press/Brent Linton)

“I offer my support in this time of unbelievable grief,” MP Bob Nault said in a written statement. “In the coming days, I know community members will bring strength and support to each other as they work to overcome this tragedy.”

Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath issued a joint statement with the community’s representative at Queen’s Park, Sol Mamakwa, saying they joined with the people of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in their grief.

“Our thoughts and our hearts are with the surviving family members, their friends, and the community,” they said. “We hope they find solace and strength in community and feel an outpouring of love from across the province.”

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.