Holiday Tragedy in Belmont; 12 Confirmed Dead

Nearly 200 firefighters converge in Belmont after a fire in an apartment building killed 12 people. — Photo by David Greene

Holiday Tragedy in Belmont; 12 Confirmed Dead,
10 Injured After Fast Moving Fire

by David Greene

A fast-moving apartment fire between the Christmas and New Year’s holiday has brought unspeakable grief to the Belmont community, after 12 people were killed and 10 more injured, including four firefighters. The youngest of the dead, reported to be a one year-old child and the oldest is believed to be a 50 year-old man.

[Officials told the Associated Press that the blaze was started by a three-year-old boy who was playing with a stove in a first floor apartment.]

The five-alarm fire inside the five-story apartment building at 2363 Prospect Avenue at East 187 Street was reported at just before 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 28.

Residents console a woman crying after initial reports that residents had been killed in the fire. — Photo by David Greene

Fire officials say the fire started on the first floor and quickly spread to the upper floors. Firefighters from Ladder 38 stationed on nearby Belmont Avenue arrived in three minutes, but members radioed of a non-functioning fire hydrant at the scene.

Neighbors reported that many of the building’s residents were out on the building’s fire escapes when firefighter’s arrived. A child was reported to be the first victim removed from the scene by paramedics.

With the temperature hovering at eighteen degrees without the windchill, firefighters removed resident from the fire escapes, before members used axes to break windows to enter apartments on the second, third and fourth floor.

Firefighters used at least three tower ladders to access apartments at 2363 Prospect Avenue. — Photo by David Greene

As nearly 200 firefighters battled the flames, residents consoled a sobbing woman who escaped the flames.

Sources report at least three died at the scene and the rest died at either St. Barnabas of Jacobi Hospital.

Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at the scene, “We’re here at the scene of an unspeakable tragedy in the middle of the holiday season, a time when families are together.”

De Blasio added that firefighters removed 12 survivors from the building.

Firefighters break windows and enter a first floor apartment where the fire reportedly began. — Photo by David Greene

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro called the blaze “historic in its magnitude” as the Prospect Avenue blaze was the most deadly fire since the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the most deadly apartment building fire since the Happy Land arson fire of 1990, which killed 86 people and ironically occurred less than 1 mile from the current fire scene.

Nigro added, “Our hearts go out to every family that lost a loved one here and everyone that’s fighting for their lives.”

Officials note the death toll could still rise as investigators from the FDNY Fire Marshal, the ATF Arson and Explosion Unit and the NYPD go back into the building this morning.

One fire department source added that four of the injured remain “in extremely critical condition.”

At least one person remains missing as Emmanuel Mensah, 28, a member of the U.S. Army, was home for the holiday’s and had not been seen since before the blaze.

Assemblyman Michael Blake released a statement saying: “Our thoughts, prayers and love are with the victims and their loved ones following the unfathomable fire tragedy that occurred in our beloved Bronx.” Blake thanked the “Firefighters and First Responders who unselfishly put their lives at risk to rescue the lives of Bronxites,” as well as the medical staffs at St. Barnabas Hospital and Jacobi Medical Center for working to help save lives.

Other elected officials, including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, took to Twitter to share their thoughts.

People wanting information on families and loved ones who were affected by the fire are encouraged to call 311. Others outside of NYC, can call (212) 639-9675. Those wanting to offer donations and other assistance were told to call 877-RED-CROSS.

— Additional reporting by Michael Benjamin

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