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‘Numerous fatalities’ expected from New York City’s worst fire disaster in more than 30 years

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Eric Adams, mayor of New York, speaks during a news conference on the first day of students returning from winter recess at a public elementary school in the Bronx borough of New York, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.
Jeenah Moon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

New York City officials are calling the fire at a 19-story apartment building in the Bronx one of the city’s worst in over 30 years.

The commissioner of the New York City Fire Department said he expects “numerous fatalities” after identifying at least 63 people with varying levels of injuries from smoke and fire. At least 32 people were taken to at least five different hospitals in the borough with life-threatening injuries.

The overwhelming majority of the fire’s victims are suffering from severe smoke inhalation, FDNY Commissioner Dan Nigro said. Firefighters rushing into the building discovered victims on all nearly every floor of the building — many found experiencing cardiac and respiratory arrest.

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“There were certainly people trapped in their apartments all through this building,” Nigro said, calling the smoke conditions “unprecedented.”

Fire investigators have pinpointed the origin of the blaze to a duplex apartment on the second and third floors of the building. The door to the apartment was left open, allowing the fire to spread and smoke to billow up throughout the building, the commissioner added.

Nigro said it was “unusual” that the smoke extended the entire length of the building.

The department estimates 200 of its members responded to the 19-story residential building on East 181st Street in Fordham Heights around 11 a.m. The fire was knocked down some time before 1 p.m.

“This is going to be one of the worst fires we have witnessed here in modern times in the city of New York,” Mayor Eric Adams said at an afternoon press conference.

Nigro and Adams called Sunday’s disaster one of the worst fires in the city in at least three decades. In 1990, the Happy Land fire claimed 87 lives in the Bronx.

Angelo Patri Middle School on Webster Avenue has been opened for any of the residents displaced by the blaze, police announced Sunday afternoon.

Video circulating social media show thick smoke billowing out from the lower levels of the building where firefighters appeared to focus their attention.

Asked about social media rumors of a resident jumping from the building to reach safety, the commissioner said someone may have slipped when attempting to get onto a fire ladder, but he had not received any reports of a jumper.

Fire marshals are on hand investigating the cause of the fire, but the commissioner said he doesn’t believe investigators will deem the source suspicious.

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