NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Bronx community is still reeling after a fire took the lives of 17 people, including eight children, on Sunday.
Officials on Tuesday released the identities of 14 victims:
- 27-year-old Sera Janneh
- 12-year-old Seydou Toure
- 5-year-old Haouwa Mahamadou
- 49-year-old Haji Dukary
- 37-year-old Haja Dukureh
- 12-year-old Mustapha Dukureh
- 11-year-old Mariam Dukureh
- 5-year-old Fatoumata Dukureh
- 50-year-old Fatoumata Drammeh
- 21-year-old Foutmala Drammeh
- 12-year-old Muhammed Drammeh
- 19-year-old Nyumaaisha Drammeh
- 6-year-old Omar Jambang
- 43-year-old Fatoumata Tunkara
All 14 died from smoke inhalation.
The community held two vigils for the victims Tuesday, and support continues to pour in for those who survived.
CBS2’s John Dias spoke with some about how they were able to escape.
Thick, black smoke swallowed the air outside Yesbely Fernandez’s apartment building Sunday morning on East 181st Street, while the fire raged inside a second-floor apartment below her. But she knew not to panic.
“My fear was the smoke, because I know the fire isn’t going to come up, because those apartments are made to withhold the fire,” she told Dias.
Fernandez and her boyfriend quickly sprung into action — fast thinking that may have saved their lives.
“We wet our towels, we put it under the door, so the smoke would stop come in,” she said. “We made sure we stuck our heads out the window to not breathe in that smoke.”
They waited on the lower level of her duplex apartment until firefighters told them it was all clear. With her boyfriend’s kids, they escaped using the soot-filled interior stairs down to safety.
Watch: Mayor Adams, FDNY Commissioner Nigro On Deadly Bronx Fire
The FDNY reminds others to follow that plan if they’re in a similar situation.
“We do recommend in high-rise fireproof buildings that people should shelter in place, and it’s safer to be in your apartment than to venture out,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
Officials say as the residents of the fire apartment raced out, their front door should have closed, but it didn’t, sending a massive amount of toxic smoke through the building.
A spokesperson for the building owner said all of its doors are self-closing. Mostly recently, violations were issued in 2017 and 2019, but were fixed.
“There are no open violations or complaints related to self-closing doors at the property,” Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC said in a statement.
Nigro says we may never know why the door didn’t close.
“It was so deformed from the heavy fire that our marshals are having very great difficulty determining exactly why it wouldn’t close,” Nigro said on Newsradio 880.
He says more people would have died had it not been for his firefighters’ quick response.
Mayor Eric Adams toured the damage Monday, saying the FDNY is still investigating.
“The marshals are doing their investigation, and based on the violations of the city’s law to take appropriate action, but the investigation is still early at this time,” he said.
The FDNY says the cause was a space heater that malfunctioned in a bedroom. Sources say it was apparently left on for days, and there were multiple heaters inside.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has launched a federal investigation to see if the space heater was defective.Volunteers Leave Donations At Monroe College Emergency Post For Survivors Of Bronx High-Rise Fire
Sources say the people living in the fire apartment will not face criminal charges, and the cause was accidental.
Throughout the day Tuesday, CBS2 watched families come back to get some of their personal belongings. Those lucky enough to avoid the worst of what happened are now trying to figure out what to do next.
Joyce Anderson was one of the very first tenants to ever move into the building back in 1974.
“I’m not going back there,” she told CBS2’s Kevin Rincon.
Those who died were more than just her neighbors.
“I recognized the little boy who died in the fire. He went to the summer camp my granddaughter went to. His whole family, I think, they all died,” Anderson said.
Gita Sankano’s family barely escaped Sunday morning.
“I knew these people. I did. I knew these people,” she said. “My aunts are traumatized. My sister is traumatized. My nieces are traumatized. It’s done. They do not want to go back to this building.”
Restoration efforts have been ongoing around the clock. Cleaning crews have filled trucks with garbage bag after garbage bag of soot-covered materials from inside.
The goal is to get tenants back into their homes, but for those who would rather go elsewhere, help is on the way.
“We’re urging all three levels of government — federal, state and city — to find new locations so these folks can find a place to live,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Schumer wrote a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to expediate the process of allowing tenants to use their housing assistance on other properties.
“Ninety families have these vouchers, so the vast majority of tenants have them and can use them,” Schumer said.
Heartbroken in the bitter cold, the Bronx community came together as family Tuesday night for a candlelight prayer vigil, finding the strength to turn their pain into purpose.
“It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful,” Bronx resident Elizabeth Medina told CBS2’s Cory James. “I used to work in this community for 20 years as a paraprofessional … A lot of lives were lost unnecessarily.”
Hundreds of New Yorkers showed up at the vigil, honoring those who died and the first responders who risked everything.
“I’m here to support the fire department, who did an awesome job. I’m here to support the police department, that does an awesome job,” Bronx resident Vanessa Redick said.
Mallory Gethers made a shirt capturing the men and women paying their respects in front of the Twin Parks Northwest building.
“They’re heroes, and I appreciate them,” she said. “I feel like they saved a lot of lives. It could have been a lot more lives lost.”
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson said she is going to work to make sure a tragedy like this does not happen again in her community.
“There is something wrong when a majority of the major fires we have seen in the city of New York in the last 30 years have been in the Bronx, and so this is a call to attention and this is a call to action,” she said.
But for now, those mourning are coming together, lighting candles to drown out the darkness and finding peace through prayer.
“This is not the time to question your faith. This is the time that we should all gather near and recognize that we praise a good God,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said.Bronx High-Rise Fire: What To Do If You Were Impacted & How To Help Survivors
CBS2’s John Dias and Kevin Rincon contributed to this report.