NEW YORK - An investigation was underway Tuesday into the deadly apartment fire in the Bronx that killed 17people. This, as some residents were allowed back in to retrieve their belongings.
More than a dozen people were still fighting for their lives following Sunday's fire in Fordham Heights. Mayor Eric Adams corrected the death count during a briefing Monday afternoon to reflect two fewer deaths, but that count was expected to rise.
Officials said a space heater sparked the flames and smoke inhalation likely killed most of the victims including a three-year-old. Patients were taken to seven different hospitals and there was a double count.
Officials say the five-alarm NYC fire began with a malfunctioning electric, portable space heater inside a duplex located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the 19-story Twin Parks North West apartment building just before 11 a.m.
The fire consumed the apartment and part of the hallway. When the door to the apartment was left open, smoke was able to travel through the building. The door, which was self-closing, did not function properly, according to the FDNY.
"This is an unspeakable tragedy, " said Adams.
"There were multiple people living in that apartment," said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro Monday. "As they left, they opened the door and the door stayed open."
According to Nigro, smoke from the fire ran the entire height of the building, and responding firefighters found victims in stairwells on every floor of the building. Most of the victims suffered from severe smoke inhalation.
"Our prayers are with them and our prayers continue to be with the families of those we lost," said Nigro.
Mayor Adams said the New York City OEM and Red Cross will continue work to assist people left homeless by the fire with finding places to stay. All money donated to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York would go directly to the fire victims.
About 60 families stayed in area hotels and the remaining residents spent the night with friends and families. Some of the apartments will remain uninhabitable for some time. Residents could continue to register with the Red Cross.
Injuries from the fire include 32 people with life-threatening injuries, 9 people in serious condition, and 22 people with non-life-threatening injuries. The youngest victim killed was a three-year-old child, announced Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson.
The ultimate death toll could be the worst the city has seen since the Happy Land fire in 1990 that killed 87 people.
"Our hearts go out to these families. Our hearts mourn the loss of our beloved children and their family members," said Gibson on Monday.
"During a tragedy, we are going to be here for each other," said Adams.
Hochul said that when she prepares the state budget this week, she will set up a victims compensation fund to help victims of the fire find new housing, burial costs, and more.
"We will not forget you, we will not abandon you, we are here for you." Governor Kathy Hochul said. "Tonight is a night of tragedy and pain, and tomorrow we begin to rebuild."
One victim described a horrifying scene inside the building, with children screaming for help. The woman told FOX 5 News that she had to step over the bodies of a person and dog going down a smoke-filled staircase to escape the building.
"We're going to be here for this community, to help them navigate through this," said Adams.
The building has a large immigrant population, and officials said they would make sure those affected people would be assisted as well.
"Early this morning I was joined with the chancellor. We visited every school in the area where the young scholars lost their lives. We sat down with the principal and teachers and just wanted to have a private moment to let them know that we are here to support them as they go through this tragedy," said Adams.
"At the federal level, we will do whatever we can," Senator Charles Schumer said. "There is housing assistance, there is tax assistance, and maybe most important in this instance, immigration assistance so families can be united."
"If you need assistance, your name will not be turned over to ICE or any other institution," Adams said. "We want people to be comfortable in coming forward."
Roughly 200 firefighters responded to the blaze.
A source in the Department of Buildings told FOX 5 that there didn't appear to be any major violations in the past at the building, just a few elevator violations and some safety issues with an exterior renovation project several years ago that were resolved.
The 120-unit is one of multiple buildings in the Twin Parks North West complex and was built in 1973 as part of a project to build modern, affordable housing throughout the Bronx.
Displaced residents will be staying in hotels until it is safe to return to the building.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul tweeted: "I am horrified by the devastating fire in the Bronx today."
The Red Cross arrived at the building to help the victims and support rescue crews. Crews were seen wheeling cases of water to the scene.
Sunday's fire was the deadliest fire at a U.S apartment building since 2017 when 13 people died in another Bronx apartment building, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association.
That fire was blamed on a preschooler playing with a stove.
Last week, 12 people, including eight children, died following a fire inside a rowhome in Philadelphia. Investigators said that while the home was equipped with smoke detectors, none of them were operational.
With the Associated Press.