Worst blaze in NYC history claims lives of 19 Bronx residents including 9 children

The Bronx, yet again, finds itself at the center of another tragic fire that has claimed a record number of lives unseen since the Happy Land Social club arson that killed 87 in 1990.

Nineteen lives perished, including nine children as a result of a fire that broke out at Twin Parks North West located at 333 E 181st Street in the Fordham neighborhood of the borough around 11 AM.

The fire itself was contained to a small area of the 19 story building but black smoke soon overwhelmed the building darkening hallways and stairwells and as a result, it appears many of those who perished was a result of the resulting conditions and not the actual fire itself.

via USA Today

Many are asking how and why could a fire claim so many lives.

The FDNY stated that the fire seems to have begun due to a faulty space heater and the situation got out of control as a result of someone not closing the door to their apartment as they fled but is this really where the blame should go?

Apartment and common doors in apartment buildings must close automatically as per building and fire codes. Clearly, that didn’t happen in this situation if a door was “left open”.

According to NBC News, a statement from the owner of the building indicated that the building has self-closing doors as required. But if that’s the case then why was a door left open cited by the FDNY as the cause of the gravity of this tragedy?

Then we have the space heater. Why was a space heater needed in the first place? In The Bronx, we know the answer: Landlords skimp on heating units properly.

Heat complaints had been filed in the past year at 333 E 181st Street and that’s just those who actually took the time to complain. Many wonder why people wouldn’t complain and there can be many reasons from apathy because nothing is ever really done to tenants perhaps fearing being evicted for reporting such conditions.

It’s important to note also that not every unit is heated the same. Some units are warmer and some units are colder, it’s just the nature of not having centralized heating for each unit so while you may get some tenants saying heat wasn’t a problem, there are others that will complain to the contrary.

While all of this is speculation and we admittedly do not have all the details, as Bronxites, we speak from experience when it comes to landlords and lack of sufficient services especially in low-income housing.

And this isn’t the first fire in recent years that claimed a horrific number of lives.

Just a little over 4 years ago, a fire broke out at 2363 Prospect Avenue in Belmont which killed 13 people. It was the city’s deadliest blaze since the Happy Land arson in 1990 until yesterday’s tragic event.

Many of these deaths are preventable with proper building code enforcement but without the political will to actually do something about it, it will be only a matter of time until The Bronx once again sets another grim record as a result of a fire.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.