NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Two young sisters killed in an apartment fire in the Bronx were home alone at the time of the blaze while their mother was at a laundromat across the street, police said Thursday.
The girls’ mother was seen on surveillance video at a laundromat across the street at the time of the fire, which broke out in apartment 3F at the Butler Houses around 6 p.m. Wednesday, CBS2’s Steve Langford reported.
The woman claims she sublets the apartment to another adult and told police she assumed that person was home when she left the apartment, CBS2 reported. Police are investigating, but so far have found no evidence supporting that claim, CBS2 reported.
The woman did not speak to reporters when she returned to the scene on Thursday.
Her daughters, 18-month-old Amanda Jabie and her 2-year-old sister Jannubi Jabie, were trapped inside the apartment, surrounded by flames and thick smoke. Despite their best efforts, the conditions made it impossible for neighbors to reach the two toddlers.
“We heard kids crying, but it was too black and we couldn’t breathe,” said neighbor Daven Jackson.
“I was in here and I heard the babies crying and I thought somebody was in there with them,” said neighbor Gladys Dozier.
The family next door couldn’t escape either, putting wet towels under their door until help arrived.
“I open the door to a bunch of black smoke,” said neighbor Tisha Dozier. “I closed the door back.”
Firefighters eventually broke windows to get everyone out.
The sisters were both unconscious and in grave condition.
“I seen the firemen bring the kids out and they were burnt all over their body,” said witness David Lawson.
“The mother came running from across the street and saying, ‘My babies, my babies,'” said witness Alison Barker, describing the moment the girls’ mother realized the fire was coming from her apartment.
The two children were rushed to Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center where they were later pronounced dead, officials said.
Witnesses said the girls’ mother collapsed on the sidewalk when she got the scene. She was taken to the hospital for trauma.
While family and friends were escorted away by police Thursday, a local imam offered community support and understanding.
“It’s not her intention to leave her family alone. She went to the laundry to wash her clothes. She was about to come back to them,” said Imam Musa Kabba.
At least eight other people were also hurt in the blaze, which fire officials determined was caused by burning incense that was left unattended.
Chantay Foy, who lives on the floor above the fire scene, says she often smelled the strong scent and spoke to the mother about it recently.
“I just said it’s dangerous because anything can happen,” Foy said.
FDNY officials said there were no working smoke alarms in the apartment at the time of the fire.
Meanwhile, atop a load of laundry that still sat across the street Thursday was a lunchbox belonging to one of the tiny victims.