NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An entire community in Brooklyn is in mourning after a man tried “courageously” to save members of his family from a fast-moving fire that left his wife and three of their young children dead early Monday morning.
The seventh night of Chanukah was profoundly somber in Sheepshead Bay, where thousands of people said goodbye to 39-year-old Aliza Azan, 11-year-old Moshe Azan, 7-year-old Yitzah Azan and 3-year-old Henrietta Azan.
It was around 2:18 a.m. when fire officials said they got a call from a neighbor reporting flames at the three-story, single family home on East 14th Street.
Firefighters got to the home in less than three minutes, but by the time they arrived, the house was already engulfed with eight family members and a visiting cousin sleeping inside.
“In that short period of time, the fire actually met them at the front door,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said at a news conference early Monday afternoon.
Cell phone video from the scene showed flames shooting out from the home.
“The fire was like five feet on top the house, that big was the fire,” witness Naim Ila said.
Nigro said it appears the fire, started by a menorah lit to celebrate Chanukah, began on the first floor and then spread up the stairs to the second floor and then into the attic.
“Took very aggressive action by the firefighters knowing there were people inside to move their hose lines in to make their searches and unfortunately they found four members of the family upstairs, all of whom had died,” Nigro said.
Nigro said the victims were found on the second floor, but the father was able to get two teenagers out of the house safely.
“He was able to get out of the second floor, he was severely burned,” Nigro said. “He tried to get back in to try to save the rest of his family, the ones that he didn’t already save. We believe he acted very courageously and tried desperately and hopefully it didn’t cost him his life, but it may.”
The fire commissioner said the father and two teenagers remain in critical condition “fighting for their lives.”
The two youngest survivors walked away with only minor injuries. The smaller boy was so overwhelmed by tears, he was inconsolable, CBS2’s Janelle Burrell reported.
“Disaster, what I see here,” said family friend Avi Navon. “Very good family. They’re very religious, very kind family. Very, very very good.”
“Everybody very upset because big tragedy,” said Rabbi Yoshay Shammah.
“They’re very nice people,” another neighbor told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond. “They’re a very good family. It’s a big loss.”
Nigro said there is reason to believe a smoke alarm was activated and may have played a role in alerting two of the boys that there was a fire.
Nigro called it “a terrible tragedy.”
“Not just for this community, but for our city. This time of year, when these things strike, it just tears your heart out for the family,” he said. “Our city grieves with this family today.”
The community was similarly grief-stricken, surrounding the family’s car Monday evening. They walked alongside for as long as they could on its way to the airport ahead of their burials in Israel.
“This is a terrible tragedy for every single person. Every Jew, every New Yorker. There are no words,” neighbor Victor Shine told CBS2’s Ali Bauman.
Authorities say the deadly fire was started by a menorah as the family celebrated the Jewish festival of light, and hope it serves as reminder to be careful with lights and candles this holiday season.