12 dead in NYC apartment fire

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The deadliest residential fire to hit New York City in at least a quarter century swept through a Bronx apartment building Thursday on one of the coldest nights so far this winter, killing 12 people and leaving four more fighting for their lives, city officials said.

The dead included a child around a year old, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a briefing outside the building.

“We may lose others as well,” he added.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro called the fire, “historic in its magnitude,” because of the number of lives lost. Excluding the Sept. 11 attacks, it was the worst fire in the city since 87 people were killed at a social club fire in the Bronx in 1990.

“Our hearts go out to every person who lost a loved one here and everyone who is fighting for their lives,” Nigro said.

The blaze broke out on the first floor of a five-story building just before 7 p.m. and quickly ripped through the roughly century-old structure, which stands in a row of similar apartment buildings a block from the grounds of the Bronx Zoo.

The cause remained under investigation.

About 170 firefighters worked in bone-chilling cold, just 15 degrees, to rescue people from the building. Water sprayed from hoses froze on the street.

Many questions remained in the immediate aftermath of the blaze, including how the fire spread so quickly in a brick building built after catastrophic fires at the turn of the 20th century ushered in an era of tougher enforcement of fire codes.

Fire escapes on the building’s facade helped some escape, but officials said the fire spread through every floor of the building within just a few minutes.

Witnesses described seeing burned bodies being carried away on stretchers and young girls who had escaped the building standing barefoot outside with no coats.

Windows on some upper floors were smashed and blackened. Displaced residents wrapped in Red Cross blankets were staying warm on city buses, brought in to provide heat.

The death toll surpassed the 10 who died, including nine children, in a four-story home in another part of the Bronx in 2007. That blaze had been sparked by a space heater. (AP)

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