A fire at an apartment building in New York City was deadlier as an open door allowed smoke to spread, the city’s fire marshal said.
The morning fire of Jan. 9 in the Bronx was caused by a faulty electric heater, but fire chief Daniel Nigro said many victims were killed by the smoke.
The heater was in a second-story unit, but as residents of the unit fled the blaze, a door was left open, Mr Nigro said, adding that this allowed the smoke to spread.
He said the door was either left open by residents or did not close automatically.
The flames damaged only a small part of the building but smoke swept through the stairwells which, in the absence of fire escapes, cut many residents off from their only means of escape.
Some were trapped in their homes, while many of those who tried to flee “could not escape due to the volume of smoke,” said Mr Nigro.
Firefighters found victims on every floor, many in cardiac and respiratory arrest, he added.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams told Good Morning America: “There may have been a maintenance issue with this door and that will be part of the ongoing investigation.”
Some 17 people, including eight children, have died in what has become the city’s deadliest fire in three decades. The death toll has been revised downwards by authorities, who previously reported it to 19, including nine children.
Sixty-two people were injured and 30 of them were treated in hospital on Monday, many in critical condition.
New large apartment buildings in the city must have sprinkler systems and interior doors that close automatically to contain smoke.
It is not clear if the same rules applied to the 120-unit Twin Parks North West building, which was built in 1972.
But Mr Adams confirmed that the building’s doors were supposed to close automatically.
The building was fitted with smoke detectors, but several residents, including Luis Rosa, said they initially ignored them because false alarms were so common.
Mr Rosa said that the moment he opened the door to his 13th floor apartment, the smoke was so thick that he could not see into the hallway.
“So I said, okay, we can’t run down the stairs because if we go down the stairs we’ll end up suffocating,” he said.
“All we could do was wait.”