×

Deadly NYC fire lit by child playing with stove

  • Emelia Ascheampong, right, a resident of the building where more than 10 people died in a fire on Thursday, is hugged by a friend on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, in the Bronx borough of New York. Ascheampong, her husband Nana, and four children, survived the fire by using a fire escape. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki) Andres Kudacki

  • Nilda Guerrero, a friend of the superintendent of an apartment apartment building where more than 10 people died in a fire a day earlier in the Bronx borough of New York, cries after trying to visit the building Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. New York City's deadliest residential fire in decades was accidentally lit by a boy playing with the burners on his mother's stove, officials said Friday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

  • A firefighter ladder lay on the wall as furniture is seen through the broken windows of a building Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, where more than 10 people died in a fire on Thursday in the Bronx borough of New York. New York City's deadliest residential fire in decades was accidentally lit by a boy playing with the burners on his mother's stove, officials said Friday. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki) Andres Kudacki

  • This Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, photo shows broken windows on the back of the building where more than 10 people died Thursday in a fire in the Bronx borough of New York. New York City's deadliest residential fire in decades was accidentally lit by a 3 ½-year-old boy playing with the burners on his mother's stove, officials said Friday. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki) Andres Kudacki

  • Paramedics leave the scene near the building Friday, where more than 10 people died in a fire on Thursday, in the Bronx borough of New York. ap photo

  • Betty Rodriguez and her husband Joel Rodriguez, residents of the building where more than 10 people died in a fire on Thursday, react as they talk to the media on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki) Andres Kudacki

  • A woman looks out the window of a building adjacent to an apartment building where more than 10 people died in fire a day earlier in the Bronx borough of New York, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. New York City's deadliest residential fire in decades was accidentally lit by a boy playing with the burners on his mother's stove, officials said Friday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

  • Charred items sit on the fire escape of an apartment building where more than 10 people died in fire a day earlier in the Bronx borough of New York, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. New York City's deadliest residential fire in decades was accidentally lit by a boy playing with the burners on his mother's stove, officials said Friday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

  • A young girl looks out the window of a city bus used to transport victims of an apartment building fire where more than 10 people died a day earlier in the Bronx borough of New York, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. New York City's deadliest residential fire in decades was accidentally lit by a boy playing with the burners on his mother's stove, officials said Friday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

  • A tear runs down the face of Kenyon George, whose girlfriend Shawntay Young, died during an apartment building fire a day earlier in the Bronx borough of New York, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. Young was one of more than 10 people who died in the fire. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

  • Boxes are seen through a broken window near a fire escape on the back of the building where more than 10 people died a day earlier in a fire, in the Bronx borough of New York. A boy toying with the burners on his mother's stove accidentally lit New York City's deadliest fire in decades, turning an apartment building into an inferno, the fire commissioner said Friday. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki) Andres Kudacki

  • Nilda Guerrero, a friend of the superintendent of the apartment building where more than 10 people died in a fire a day earlier in the Bronx borough of New York, walks away after trying to visit the building Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. New York City's deadliest residential fire in decades was accidentally lit by a boy playing with the burners on his mother's stove, officials said Friday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

  • Firefighters respond to a building fire Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, in the Bronx borough of New York. The Fire Department of New York says a blaze raging in a Bronx apartment building has seriously injured more than a dozen of people. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) Frank Franklin II

  • Firefighters respond to a deadly fire Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, in the Bronx borough of New York. The New York City mayor's press secretary says several people have died in the blaze on a frigid night, and several more have been injured. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) Frank Franklin II

  • Firefighters respond to a deadly fire Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, in the Bronx borough of New York. The New York City mayor's press secretary says several people have died in the blaze on a frigid night, and several more have been injured. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) Frank Franklin II

  • Firefighters respond to a building fire Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, in the Bronx borough of New York. The Fire Department of New York says a blaze raging in the Bronx apartment building has seriously injured more than a dozen of people. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) Frank Franklin II

  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference after fire crews responded to a building fire Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) Frank Franklin II



Associated Press
Friday, December 29, 2017

NEW YORK — A preschooler toying with the burners on his mother’s stove accidentally sparked New York City’s deadliest fire in decades, an inferno that quickly overtook an apartment building and blocked the main escape route, the fire commissioner said Friday.

A dozen people died, and four others were fighting for their lives a day after the flames broke out in the century-old building near the Bronx Zoo.

The 3½-year-old-boy, his mother and another child were able to flee their first-floor apartment. But they left the apartment door open behind them, and it acted like a chimney that drew smoke and flames into a stairwell. From there, the fire spread throughout the five-story building, authorities said.

The city housing department said investigators would look into why the door did not close automatically, though Mayor Bill de Blasio said there was “nothing problematic about the building that contributed to this tragedy.”

At least 20 people scrambled out via fire escapes on a bitterly cold night, but others could not.

Fernando Batiz said his 56-year-old sister, Maria Batiz, and her 8-month-old granddaughter also died, though the baby’s mother survived.

“The smoke, I guess, overcame her. Everything happened so quick,” Batiz said. He described his sister, a home care attendant, as a selfless person who helped him when he was homeless.

“I don’t know what to think. I’m still in shock,” he said.

One family lost four members: Karen Stewart-Francis, her daughters, 2-year-old Kiley Francis and 7-year-old Kelly Francis, and their cousin, 19-year-old Shawntay Young, relatives said. Stewart-Francis’ husband, Holt Francis, was hospitalized, the family said.

“I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know how to feel,” Stewart-Francis’ mother, Ambrozia Stewart, told The New York Times. “Four at one time — what do I do?”

Young lived in the basement but had gone upstairs to visit Stewart-Francis in her fifth-floor apartment, said Young’s boyfriend, Kenyon George.

“The first story I heard is that she was up top and she couldn’t get down,” said George, 19, fighting back tears. The two had dated for seven months, and Young had become a mother figure to his 1-year-old son, he said. She called him Thursday morning, but he was asleep and missed the call.

“If I had picked up the phone, she would have been over here all day,” he told The Associated Press. “It feels so surreal.”

About 170 firefighters worked in 15-degree weather to rescue dozens of people. Fire Department video released Friday showed the building’s charred halls and stairs, where icicles had formed from water poured on the blaze.

Residents described opening their front doors to see smoke too thick to walk through and descending icy fire escapes with children in hand. Some escaped barefoot or in their nightclothes.