NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A solemn vigil was held late Friday near a burned out Bronx apartment building where 12 people died in a fire a night earlier, as the community came together to remember those who lost their lives and prayed for others injured.
As CBS2’s Ali Bauman reported, it was another bitter cold night on Prospect Avenue in the Belmont section of the borough. But neighbors gathered in spite of their own discomfort to mourn the 12 lives taken in smoke and flames.
“We are all here because we are feeling this, and as I was here last night, I have not closed my eyes since last night,” one neighbor said.
“There are families. There are children. There’s a baby who’s never going to celebrate a new year,” said City Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-15th).
PHOTOS: 12 Dead In Bronx Fire
The mourners lit candles and said prayers in an attempt to make sense of tragedy.
Christine Batiz was inconsolable. She was at work Thursday night when her mother – Maria Batiz, 58 – and her own newborn baby were killed.
Batiz was watching her infant granddaughter at the time, and relatives said she called her daughter at work to tell her she and the baby weren’t going to make it out alive.
A GoFundMe was set up for funeral arrangements for Batiz. It had brought in more than $28,000 as of just before 11 p.m.
“I consider them family because I live in the neighborhood too, and it’s sad. It’s a sad situation,” said neighbor Judith Vega, “and my heart goes out to those who died and everybody that doesn’t have a place to live now.”
Also returning to the building of heartache Friday night was Angelo Villanola, who was walking home past the building a night earlier when a woman ran out the front door.
“Running out coughing and she fell, so I helped her, and when I looked to the building, I noticed that it was a fire because the smoke coming out,” Villanola said. “So I tried to rush in, you know like try to see from the first floor; help as many as I could.”
Villanola said he called 911, but could hear people screaming inside. So he pulled down the fire escape ladder and helped pull frantic families down.
“We brought about 30 people down that fire escape,” Villanola said. “Shocked, crying, like to the point they couldn’t even cry anymore; like they couldn’t even move.”
Villanola took cellphone video once fire trucks arrived, but smoke continued to spill from windows as emergency responders rushed people away on stretchers.
The American Red Cross Greater New York is helping dozens of residents who were forced out in the bitter cold by the fire.
Officials on Friday said the fire was caused by a young boy playing with the burners on the stove.
Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Esposito said a nearby school, Crotona International Academy, 2474 Crotona Ave., had been opened as a reception center for those displaced.
Twelve people were confirmed dead in the fire, including four children. Mayor Bill de Blasio said four people were also in critical condition and fighting for their lives late Friday.
“This is the worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city in at least a quarter century,” de Blasio said. “Based on the information we have now, this will rank as one of the worst losses of life to a fire in many, many years.”
Those displaced who have not yet connected with the Red Cross can call 877 RED CROSS.