One week after a fire ripped through a Bronx apartment building killing 12 people and injuring four others, families, friends and neighbors of the victims are left with questions and grief.
The December 28 fire in the 100-year old building, located at 2363 Prospect Avenue, began just before 7:00 p.m. in a first-floor apartment where a three-year-old child had been playing with a stove. It then spread with such speed and ferocity that firefighters said some of the fatalities occurred before they arrived on scene, three minutes after receiving the call. They found the first three victims when they kicked in the front door and entered the first-floor lobby.
“I would expect that kind of fire at 3, 4 in the morning, when people are sound asleep, not at dinner time when everyone is awake, walking the streets, awake in your apartment,” Battalion Chief Jeffrey Facinelli, told the New York Post. “Why are we seeing this much fire?”
How the Fire Spread
The building was built in 1916, before fireproof construction standards such as isolated stairwells constructed of concrete or other non-burning materials. When the fire spread to the hallway, it shot up the main staircase which essentially functioned as a chimney, according to fire officials.
The mother of the child who started the fire said she and her children left their apartment in such a hurry that she did not close the door behind her. An open door, allows a fire to spread more quickly. But one question that remains is why the door didn’t close itself.
In New York, all apartment buildings with three or more units are required to have self-closing fire-rated doors. Fire ratings are measured in minutes or hours that the door can function as a barrier to the spread of fire and smoke. The ratings range from 20 minutes to three hours.
Investigators are trying to determine if the 26-unit building was equipped with such doors. And if all of the smoke detectors were functioning. The building had six open violations including one for a defective smoke detector on the first floor, the same floor where the fire began.
Karen Stewart-Francis and Holt Francis lived on the 5th floor of the building with their daughters Kiley Francis, 2, and Kelly Francis, 7. Their cousin, Shawntay Young, lived in a basement apartment in the building but was visiting the Francis family when the fire broke out. Karen, Kiley, Kelly and Shawntay all perished in the fire. Updated January 5: Holt who was badly injured spent a week on life-support in an area hospital before passing away on January 4. A GoFundMe page has been created for the family.
Twenty-eight-year-old Private Emmanuel Mensah immigrated from Ghana five years ago and recently graduated from the Army National Guard boot camp. He hoped to become a military policeman. Mensah ran into the burning building twice and brought four people to safety. He ran in a third time and was helping a fifth person when they were both overcome by the smoke and died.
Christine Batiz, 26, lived in a third-floor unit of the building with her mother Maria Batiz, 56, and her 8-month-old daughter Amora Vidal. Christine was at work when she received a frantic call from her mother who was trapped in the apartment. Unable to escape, both Maria and Amora died. A GoFundMe page has been created for Christine.
Justice Opoku, 54; Gabriel Yaw Sarkookie, 48; Solomon Donkor, 49; William Donkor, age unkown; and Hannah Donkor, 17 also perished in the fire.