Fire victims in the Bronx remember the escape as authorities blamed open security doors for the destruction

The fire, which tore through an apartment building in New York and claimed 17 lives, was exacerbated by security doors that should have been closed, firefighters said.

The door to the apartment where the fire started stood open, just as a door on the 15th floor turned the stairwell into “dark, ash-stricken death traps.”

Many of the persons died from inhalation of smoke.

James McCarthy, president of the fire department of the New York Fire Officers Association, said the open doors meant smoke was pouring in in places it shouldn’t have.

“It was a significant amount of fire that appeared through the exterior windows and then it caused a lot of smoke in the building,” he said.

“And again, that’s why so many people were overcome – not necessarily by the flames, but by the smoke itself, which is toxic. And you know you can not survive that long in that atmosphere.”

The stairs were the only escape method in a tower that was too high for fire stairs.

The heavy smoke blocked some residents from fleeing and incapacitated others as they tried to flee, fire officials said.

Firefighter has soot on face looks sad in New York
Firefighters found victims on each floor, many in cardiac arrest.

Victims, many with cardiac and respiratory arrest, were found on each floor. Firefighters carried out limp children and gave them oxygen and continued to rescue even after their air supplies ran dry.

The fire was started by a faulty electric heater and was contained to just outside the apartment, but the smoke caused deaths and serious injuries.

The death toll could rise

The Bronx community mourns the loss of the 17 people originally reported as 19.

New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the number was adjusted due to a double count. “Patients were taken to seven different hospitals. “There was a bit of a double count, and I think it’s good news that the number is not 19, but 17,” he said.

“But do not forget that there are many people fighting for their lives in the hospital who were transported, so this number may unfortunately rise again.”

New York Mayor Eric Adams said Monday morning that several people were still in critical condition.

Man standing in front of building with broken windows
New York Mayor Eric Adams speaks in front of the apartment building where a deadly fire broke out.(AP: Yuki Iwamura)

‘I have never experienced such devastation’

Renee Howard, a longtime resident of the building, was in her apartment on a high floor when the fire broke out.

“It’s so devastating. I’ve been in the building for over 30 years and I’ve never seen such a fire. I’ve never experienced such a devastation. My neighbors died, my neighbors died. The kids… I do not understand.”

People are standing outside the apartment building
Residents of the apartment building, which suffered from the city’s deadliest fire in three decades, gather outside the building to gather their belongings.(AP Photo: Yuki Iwamura)

Mrs Howard said she was in her apartment and stayed inside waiting for help. She said a firefighter reached her apartment and asked her to stay by the window where she was.

“God spared me and I pray for my neighbors, I pray for my neighbors,” she said.

Meanwhile, 10-year-old Oubaidatou Balima ran around the apartment building looking for an escape from the smoke with his family.

They all came to safety.

“I was really scared, because at that moment,” she said.

“I thought I would not survive … when the smoke came into the house.”

ABC / wires

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