Deadly Bronx Blaze Reminiscent of Similar Tragedies

NY 1 - December 30, 2017

by Lindsey Christ

Thursday night's fire is the deadliest in the city since a nightclub inferno that happened not very far away back in 1990. NY1's Lindsey Christ has that part of the story.

Less than a mile from the fire that killed 12 people Thursday night, is a small memorial on a sliver of park off Southern Boulevard.

Flowers, ribbons, deflated balloons and 87 names — each a person killed in a March 1990 fire at Happy Land — a social club operating illegally with no fire exits.

"It's a domino effect of feelings," said one neighbor. "This of course brings back the memories, being not so far apart in distance. It wakes some people's memories. Those who were around at that time remember. Yeah. no good. Sad."

The fire Thursday night is now the city's deadliest since Happy Land. Julio González - whose ex-girlfriend worked at the club -- was convicted of setting the blaze. He was found guilty of 87 counts of arson and 87 counts of murder. Gonzalez died last year in prison.

"A person who was trying to kill his girlfriend killed all these other innocent people," another neighbor recalled.

But the fire Thursday on Prospect Avenue is perhaps even more reminiscent of another tragedy, also in the Bronx — a 2007 inferno caused by a cord to a space heater that killed ten people, nine of whom were children.

"My children are upstairs," said Manthain Magassa in 2007. "It's fire, it's fire. Call 911. We can't go inside because the door was locked. We cannot go anywhere to help save them. I was crying. I was yelling."

The victims in that fire were members of two families, both from Mali. NY1 traveled to Mali with one of the families as they went home to bury their children.

Even more recently, two fires in Brooklyn killed several children. Seven siblings died in March 2015, when a hot plate left on overnight malfunctioned. And earlier this month, at 2 a.m. on December 18, flames from an oil burning menorah set a house on fire, killing a mother and three children.

At the site of the Happy Land fire, neighbors who we spoke with all said they immediately thought of this tragedy when they heard of the latest deadly fire. And the notes, candles and flowers at the memorial show that nearly three decades after the fire was extinguished, the anguish remains.