Things That Matter

Here’s What We Know About the Tragic Bronx Apartment Fire: Victims Identified, Tenants Displaced, Survivors Speak

New York City grieves the loss of 17 people to a deadly fire in an apartment building in the Bronx. By now, you’ve probably heard of the tragic fire, one that claimed the lives of 17 people — most of whom were immigrants from Ghambia.

Experts are describing the fire as the deadliest of its kind in New York City since the Happy Land Fire in 1990 — another tragedy that occurred in the Bronx.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, folks are remembering the lives of their friends and loved ones, eight of whom were children.

As background, on Sunday, the 120-unit apartment building caught on fire in the Bronx, caused by a faulty electric space heater.

As of now, authorities have identified the 17 victims. The youngest are 2-year-old Ousmane Konteh, 5-year-old Haouwa Mahamadou.

As reported by the NY Daily News, the Dukureh family all perished together. The family included Haja Dukureh and Haji Dukuray (37 and 49, respectively), and their three children, Mustapha, 12, Mariam, 11, and Fatoumata, 5. The four-person Drammeh family died, including Fatoumata, 50, Foutmala, 21, Nyumaaisha, 19, and Muhammed Drammeh, 12. The patriarch of the family, Ishak Drammeh, 57, was not at home when his family died.

Other victims include 27-year-old Sera Janneh, 43-year-old Fatoumata Tunkara and her son, 6-year-old Omar Jambang, 31-year-old Isatou Jabbie, 47-year old Hagi Jawara and 12-year-old Seydou Toure.

Investigators said the fire started on the second and third floors of the 19-story apartment. According to New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, the actual flames didn’t spread far and only one unit was actually charred. As of now, authorities have confirmed that all the victims died of smoke inhalation.

In the wake of such a horrifying tragedy, many people are wondering if such a death toll could have been avoided. After all, New York City has strict fire safety codes that all buildings are meant to adhere to.

Unfortunately, more than a few factors came together on Sunday that caused such a mass casualty event. For one, the doors of the apartment were supposed to be spring-loaded to shut automatically to prevent the spread of smoke. According to Commissioner Nigro, the doors did not work.

Also, many of the residents ignored the fire alarms because there are so many false, accidental fire alarms in that building. Additionally, the 1972-era apartment did not have sprinkler systems. Newer buildings are all equipped with interior doors that swing shut automatically, but this building was too old to have those.

This week, survivors have been talking to the media about their experience surviving the traumatic event.

In a harrowing recount of the Sunday events, 38-year-old Dilenny Rodriguez described what she witnessed that day. According to The New York Times, Rodriguez was doing housework when she smelled smoke. When she looked outside, she saw firetrucks surrounding the building.

Rodriguez put a wet towel under the door, which didn’t help for long, so she left with her children in tow. The descent down the stairs from her 12th floor apartment was grueling, and she says stairs were wet, which made her afraid she would fall. At one point, she passed an unconscious body.

“We couldn’t do anything,” she told The New York Times. “I almost got lost because it was so dark.”

Likewise, Dominican immigrant Jose Soto told The New York Times that the trauma he witnessed that day will stay with him. “I could hear the mothers screaming,” Soto said. “How am I going to be able to forget that?”

As of Tuesday, hundreds of the building’s tenants are homeless, displaced by the fires that destroyed their apartment building. Many are staying at nearby hotels provided by the Red Cross.

Considering 90 of the building’s 120 inhabitants rely on section 8 housing vouchers to pay their rent, finding a new place to live will not be as cut-and-dry as it might be for others. Usually, section 8 vouchers apply to specific housing units only. So the victims’ options are limited.

To help the victims of the Bronx apartment fire, there are a few places you can donate to. One is the Bronx Fire Relief Fund, run by the mayor’s office. Another is a GoFundMe page run by the Gambian Youth Organization, which has already raised over $1 million to help the families of affected by the fire.

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