NY Daily News - May 09, 2019by ESHA RAY , ROCCO PARASCANDOLA , GRAHAM RAYMAN , MOLLY CRANE - NEWMAN , TREVOR BOYER , KERRY BURKE and THOMAS TRACY
A Harlem family of six died early Wednesday, trapped by raging flames ignited by an unattended burning stove as they slept — and tragically unaware of the blaze because a fire alarm may have been disabled, officials said.
Mom Andrea Pollidore, 45, died alongside her 32-year-old stepson, Matt Abdularauph, and four of her young children after the fire broke out about 1:40 a.m. inside their three-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of the Frederick E. Samuel Houses at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. and W. 142nd St..
The FDNY determined the deadly blaze was accidental, caused by unattended cooking. There was no smoke alarm recovered.
Family and neighbors were grief-stricken by the fire’s immeasurable toll.
The youngest victim was 3-year-old Elijah.
“He was smart, a quick learner," grief-stricken dad Jean Belot said at the gutted building after getting the tragic news. "I’m not in a good state of mind.”
Also killed in the fire was Elijah’s 11-year-old sister, Nakaira; 6-year-old sister, Brooklyn; and 8-year-old brother, Andre, according to family friends.
All six were found dead inside two bedrooms, cut off from the exit and a fire escape, officials said.
Pollidore’s daughter, Raven Reyes, 27, who wasn’t at the apartment during the blaze, said the family is devastated.
“I’m one of my mom’s oldest kids," Reyes said. “All my little brothers and sisters, my mom, and even my stepbrother passed away. They were all good people. My little brothers and sisters, they just were perfect. They were amazing.”
“I met him when I was like 16," she said of stepbrother Abdularauph. “He’s been in my life ever since — even though my mom and his dad got separated. He’s always been around. He lived there, too.
“I wish this didn’t happen. It’s just unbelievable,” she added. “I just want them to know that I love them so much.”
Reyes said her mom survived a 2013 fire on Jefferson Ave. between Tompkins and Throop Aves. in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant. The tenant living a floor below caused it, according to the daughter. Pollidore suffered first-degree burns, memory loss and was in a coma as a result, she added.
"She fought to remember her kids, get an education, graduate from college. She kept on going on and strived no matter what struggle she’d been through,” Reyes said.
The daughter said her mom had an associates degree in nursing.
Pollidore’s parents said they were setting up a GoFundMe page to help with funeral costs.
“It’s too expensive to bury two adults and four babies,” said Pallidore’s dad, Kenrick Dennie, 67. “We’re doing all we can. It’s not easy.”
ennie described his daughter as a church-going woman and a devoted mother.
“She always did the right thing,” he said, “and he always did the right thing by her children.”
The family was asleep when the fire broke out and it was too late for them to get to the door or fire escape. Fire officials are also investigating the possibility Pollidore disabled the alarms sometime before the fire broke out.
The FDNY also checked 19 apartments near the charred unit, and all had relatively new and working smoke detectors, officials said.
Friends said Pollidore, a single mom, was attacked by an ex-boyfriend in Brooklyn about three years ago who threw hot oil in her face, leaving her visibly scarred.
“She sacrificed her needs for her kids,” one friend who declined to give his name said. "She got up every morning, made sure they were up, clean, dressed, went to school ... She loved her kids very much. You saw her, you saw her kids. She did what a mother was supposed to do. She was doing it all on her own.”
An emotional Mayor de Blasio said the entire city has been saddened by the fire.
"This is a gut wrenching moment for all of us,” de Blasio said in a press conference at the scene. “As a father, thinking that yesterday evening four children were going to bed and they’re gone now is very, very painful.”
Nearly 100 people attended a candlelight vigil in front of the apartment building Wednesday evening, when Reyes, friends and family released dozens of balloons in memory of the Pollidore family. “We will stand with this family throughout,” said Derek Perkinson, director of city chapters for the National Action Network. “Harlem is a village. We take care of our own.”
“I’m tough," Reyes said at the vigil. "I’m one of my mom’s toughest kids. It’s unbelievable, but God’s got me.”
Those close to the family were left reeling.
“They are good to us," one friend who declined to give his name said. "The daughter was my daughter‘s best friend. I saw them yelling out the window ... They all died in that corner room.”
The family friend said the 11-year-old daughter frequently cooked for the rest of the family.
“One of them was cooking and left the oil on,” the friend speculated.
Firefighters arrived in three minutes but the blaze quickly spread from the stove top, trapping the family.
“We were met at the door of that apartment with fire,” said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “The entire apartment was involved. (Firefighters) aggressively moved in, extinguishing the fire as they did. They reached the two rear bedrooms (where) we found six occupants of that apartment deceased.”
Flames poured from five windows in the apartment on two sides of the building. “As aggressive as the members could be, they were not able to reach those occupants,” Nigro said. “Every bit of that apartment had fire damage.”
The fire also damaged the apartment above but nobody there was hurt.
“It’s never easy for our members," Nigro added. “We’re in the business of saving lives. It’s very difficult for our members.”
A smoke alarm was installed in the apartment in June 2017, NYCHA officials said. Tenants who escaped the building said they heard no alarms.
“We want to investigate that very question," de Blasio said. "There had been smoke alarms installed, it had been tested this January. The whole reason for the fire department investigation is understanding everything that happened.”
The blaze was the most deadly in the city since December 2017, when a 3-year-old boy playing with an oven sparked an inferno on Prospect Ave. in the Belmont section of the Bronx that killed 13 people.
Neighbors described escaping from Wednesday’s fast-moving inferno.
“I heard glass shattering,” said Claudette Grant, 33, who lives on the floor below the doomed family.
“Then I heard kids screaming, ‘Help, there’s a fire, there’s a fire!’ I went out to try to look out the window but before I could get to my living room my neighbors were knocking on the door saying, ‘Everybody get out of the building, get out of the building!’ I woke everyone up, I got my baby, and we went outside.”
“I used to see her picking the kids up from school," she said of Pollidore. "I’d see them at the store. She was a giving mother. She would see me with my toddler and she’d be like, ‘How old is your baby? I have clothes for him.’ ... I thought she was caring.”
Grant escaped with her 20-month-old son, 12-year-old daughter and 11-year-old niece. She was shocked to learn her upstairs neighbors weren’t so lucky.
"It’s still devastating,' she said. “And to think, Mother’s Day is this weekend.”