NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — Investigators are trying to determine why safety doors failed to close when the fire broke out in a New York high-rise, allowing thick smoke to rise through the tower and kill 17 people, including eight children, in the city’s deadliest blaze in more than three decades.
A malfunctioning electric space heater apparently started the fire Sunday in the 19-story building in the Bronx, fire officials said. The flames damaged only a small part of the building, but smoke poured through the apartment’s open door and turned stairwells into dark, ash-choked death traps. The stairs were the only method of escape in a tower too tall for fire escapes.
Among the dead were three children of Haja Dukuray and Haji Dukuray, originally from Gambia, according to a family member. Haja’s uncle told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the children’s parents did not survive.
“This is a very close-knit community. We are predominantly from one town in the Gambia called Alunghare, so we are all family,” said Dukuray, who drove to the Bronx from his home in Delaware on Monday. “Most of the people here, we are all related in one way or the other.”
Most of the 17 victims killed have been identified.
Here’s what we know about the identified victims:
- Fatoumata Dukureh, a 5-year-old girl
- Foutmala Drammeh, a 21-year-old woman
- Fatoumata Tunkara, a 43-year-old woman
- Haja Dukureh, a 37-year-old woman
- Haji Dukary, a 49-year-old man
- Haouwa Mahamadou, a 5-year-old girl
- Mariam Dukureh, an 11-year-old girl
- Muhammed Drammeh, a 12-year-old boy
- Mustapha Dukureh, a 12-year-old boy
- Nyumaaisha Drammeh, a 19-year-old woman
- Omar Jambang, a 6-year-old boy
- Sera Janneh, a 27-year-old woman
- Seydou Toure, a 12-year-old boy
Haja Dukureh was a stay-at-home mom, the family told NewsNation affiliate WPIX.
“The son, Mustapha, was just an amazing boy and almost all the neighbors know him,” a relative said. “I’m hearing stories about him right now, going around knocking on doors during the fire to help people.”
At Masjid-ur-Rahmah, a mosque just a few blocks from the apartment building, more than two dozen people came together in solidarity Monday. Many of those who pray at the mosque live in the building.
Gambian Ambassador to the U.S. Dawda Fadera said Monday that he traveled from Washington, D.C., to New York to learn more about the fire and share official condolences from the president of the West African country.