9 dead in NYC house fire

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, March 8, 2007

A devastating fire swept through a three-story brick house, killing eight children and an adult and leaving several others seriously injured in one of the city’s deadliest blazes in years, authorities said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday that the fire may have resulted from a space heater or an overloaded power strip.

Outside the house, a few blocks from Yankee Stadium, witnesses described seeing the fire shortly before midnight and a woman hurling children through broken windows in hopes of saving them from the inferno.

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“All I see is just a big cloud of white dust and out of nowhere comes the first baby,” said Edward Soto, who caught the child. He said he caught a second child thrown from the window moments later.

Screams of “help me, help me” were coming from the house, he said.

Fire Department spokesman Seth Andrews confirmed the death toll in the Bronx fire early Thursday. At least 10 people were injured, five of them seriously. The injured included four firefighters and another emergency worker who were hospitalized with minor injuries.

The fire burned in the home’s basement and first floor. Fire investigators were on the scene Thursday trying to determine the cause.

Fatoumata Madassa, a relative of some of the residents who lives across the street, said four families lived in the building. Many were immigrants from the west African country Mali, she said. Among them were 17 children.

At least one of the families ran an import-export business, according to neighbors. A public records search lists African American Import Export at the address.

“The kids were always playing, either in the yard of their home or on the block with water guns and scooters,” said neighbor David Robinson.

Five children ranging in age from 2 to 6 were taken from the burning home to Jacobi Medical Center with smoke inhalation and burns, hospital spokesman Michael Heller said. He said three were in critical condition. One of the victims, an infant, died, he said.

Three other victims — a woman in her 40s and boys ages 4 and 9 — were dead when they arrived at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, hospital spokesman Errol Schneer said.

The fire was reported shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday. Firefighters had it under control about two hours later.

Neighbor Elaine Martin said she went outside when she saw the fire and saw a shoeless woman in a nightgown on the street, shivering in the blistering cold and frantically worrying about her children.

“My kids is in there, my kids is in there,” Martin quoted the woman as saying.

A smell of smoke lingered around the home hours afterward. Windows of the house were broken out, and parts of the building were charred and scorched. Adding to the misery, the victims were displaced on one of the coldest nights of the year.

Bloomberg said the house fire was the city’s deadliest blaze in 17 years, not withstanding the Sept. 11 attacks. In 1990, 87 people died in a fire at an illegal Bronx social club known as Happy Land.

“It’s obviously terrible for anyone to perish like this,” the mayor said Thursday. “It just seems more painful and more unfair when children die. When children die, everyone around them seems to die a little as well.”