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NYC's Deadliest Fire In 30 Years Leaves 17 Dead In The Bronx

At least 17 people are dead, many of them children, and dozens more are in critical condition following a Sunday morning fire at a West Bronx apartment tower. 

The Bronx

The blaze — sparked by a space heater, according to the New York City Fire Department — tore through part of an apartment tower in Fordham Heights, producing thick smoke that trapped residents throughout the 19-story building. Eight of the dead are children, while more than 30 people remain hospitalized, many of them with life-threatening injuries, according to city officials. It is New York’s deadliest fire in more than 30 years. 

“We are, indeed, a city in shock,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said during a press conference Sunday afternoon, calling the fire a “horrific, painful moment for the city of New York.”

Adams clarified Monday that the estimated fatalities were revised down from Sunday's estimates, from 19 to 17 people dead and from nine to eight children. 

The tower at 333 East 181st St. consisted of around 120 units, largely income-restricted in the Mitchell-Lama program, ranging from studios to four-bedroom duplexes. Many were home to members of the neighborhood’s large West African immigrant community. 

Built in 1972 through federal affordable housing programs, the building was sold by Cammeby's International in 2020 to a joint venture of Camber Property Group, Belveron Partners and LIHC Investment Group, according to city records. The JV acquired the building in a $166M deal that included seven other rent-regulated buildings in the Bronx

All three partners in the building’s ownership have significant holdings across New York’s income-restricted housing stock. Camber has developed or purchased more than 20 affordable multifamily properties around New York City. One of the company’s founders, Rick Gropper, is a housing adviser to Adams, The New York Times reports. Belveron and LIHC are among the country’s largest investors in affordable housing. 

“We are devastated by the unimaginable loss of life caused by this profound tragedy,” a spokesperson for the ownership group said in a written statement.  “We are cooperating fully with the Fire Department and other city agencies as they investigate its cause, and we are doing all we can to assist our residents.” 

City officials said Sunday’s fire began with a malfunctioning space heater in a duplex apartment spanning the building’s second and third floors. The heater was being used by residents to supplement the building’s central heat, which was turned on at the time, FDNY officials said. 

The flames spread when the door between the burning apartment and the main hallway remained open after the residents fled, as did at least one other door leading from the hallway to a different floor, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters. According to Nigro, it is not yet clear whether those doors were designed to close or if their failure to do so violates city or state law. 

Nigro said that although the fire only burned through three floors of the building, many of the fatalities came as residents were trapped by thick smoke that quickly filled the building. Unlike many large buildings in New York, the Fordham Heights property didn't have external fire escapes, forcing residents to flee the buildings through smoke-filled internal stairwells. Nigro told reporters that because the tower was constructed under a federal program, its design didn't have to adhere to potentially stricter New York City fire codes. An investigation is ongoing, city officials say. 

The Bronx blaze marks the deadliest fire in New York since 1990, when an intentionally set fire at the Happy Land nightclub in the Bronx killed 87. 

UPDATE, JAN. 10, 4 P.M. ET: This story has been updated to reflect that 17 people, including eight children, died in the fire, after Mayor Eric Adams clarified earlier official estimates.

Related Topics: Camber Property Group