Harlem Fire Kills 6, Including 4 Children

NY Times - May 08, 2019

by James Barron

The fire swept through a fifth-floor apartment at a housing authority building. The youngest victim was 3 years old, the police said.

Six people, including four children, were killed early Wednesday when a fire swept through an apartment in a city-owned building in Harlem. Neighbors said they were awakened by the smell of smoke — and heard the voices of children screaming in the building on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. “You could hear when they would say, ‘Mom,’” said Jennifer Nunn-Stanley, who lives across the street and could hear the shouts coming from inside the building. The Fire Department sent 100 firefighters to the site of the fire, a 109-year-old building at 142nd Street. But the fire commissioner, Daniel A. Nigro, said that when firefighters reached the apartment on the fifth floor where the blaze appeared to have originated, “The fire met them at the front door.” Inside, they found the six victims — two adults and four children ages 3 to 11 — unconscious in bedrooms at the back of the apartment. “Every bit of that apartment had fire damage,” Mr. Nigro said, adding that the fire appeared to have started in the kitchen. He said firefighters did not hear smoke-detector alarms as they worked their way through the smoke, though that did not necessarily mean that the apartment lacked them. Records from the Department of Buildings indicated that the building had not been cited for violations for smoke detectors or fire escapes. It has four open violations for failing to conduct safety inspections of the elevator going back to 2016. The building was part of a public housing complex that received a failing grade two years ago following an inspection by the federal agency that oversees such complexes. The names of the victims had not been released. Three other people suffered minor injuries when the building was being evacuated. One resident, Geraldo Morales, told WABC-TV that he had been awakened by a loud noise like an explosion and fled down the fire escape. Jesse Scott, who lives across the street, watched as the fifth and sixth floors of the building appeared to explode. “Suddenly, there was a big fireball,” he said. “It just blasted out. Everything came out. All the windows came out. It was just a big ball of fire.” Others described a harrowing run to safety as residents raced down smoke-filled stairways. Firefighters declared the blaze under control at 3:19 a.m. By sunrise, the damage was apparent from the street. The upper corner of the building was scarred by black streaks. A group of relatives of some of the victims stood in a circle on the street, praying amid tears. A woman being held up by other women cried, “Oh my god, it ain’t right.” The Police Department said the fire did not appear to be suspicious. More than 1,400 people live in Frederick E. Samuel Houses, a 40-building complex of five- to seven-story buildings operated by the New York City Housing Authority. In February 2017, the Houses failed an inspection from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees public housing authorities across the country. HUD routinely inspects subsidized housing developments to ensure that conditions are sanitary, safe and in good repair. Inspectors are supposed to check for defective smoke detectors and to deduct points for safety and health hazards, like mold or peeling paint. Properties are scored on a 100-point scale, with 60 points needed to pass. The Harlem development fell one point short, scoring 59 in 2017, its latest inspection, according to general results posted on HUD’s website. Without a more detailed report of the inspection, however, it is unclear why the development received a failing score or whether smoke detectors were a problem. Nate Schweber, Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Ali Winston contributed reporting.