Commissioner: Child Playing With Stove Apparently Caused Deadly New York City Fire

The New York City apartment building fire that killed 12 and left four others fighting for their lives was accidentally started by a 3-year-old boy playing with the burners on his mother's stove, the fire commissioner said Friday.

The toddler and his mother were able to escape their first-floor apartment in the Bronx neighborhood, but 12 others were not so lucky. The mother and toddler left their door open, which acted as a chimney and drew smoke and flames into the hall and stairway.

The fire quickly climbed the five-story building and blocked the main escape route. At least 20 people escaped via fire escapes but others were forced inside by the flames and smoke.

"People had very little time to react," New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. Firefighters arrived in just over three minutes and saved some people, but "this loss is unprecedented."

Excluding 9/11, it was the deadliest blaze in the city since 87 people were killed at a social club in the same Bronx neighborhood in 1990. A fire in a home in another part of the Bronx killed 10 people, including nine children, in 2007." data-reactid="28">Excluding 9/11, the Associated Press reports it was the deadliest blaze in the city since 87 people were killed at a social club in the same Bronx neighborhood in 1990. A fire in a home in another part of the Bronx killed 10 people, including nine children, in 2007.

The building had roughly 20 apartments, which were home to people from the U.S. and immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Guinea." data-reactid="29">The century-old building near the Bronx Zoo had roughly 20 apartments, which were home to people from the U.S. and immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Guinea.

About 170 firefighters worked in 15-degree weather to rescue dozens of people.

Residents described opening their front doors to see smoke too thick to walk through and descending icy fire escapes with children in hand. Some escaped barefoot or in their nightclothes.

Fernando Batiz said his 56-year-old sister, Maria Batiz, and her 8-month-old granddaughter also died, though the baby's mother survived.

"The smoke, I guess, overcame her. Everything happened so quick," Batiz said. He described his sister, a home care attendant, as a selfless person who helped him when he was homeless.

"I don't know what to think. I'm still in shock," he said.

Another family lost four members: Karen Stewart-Francis, her daughters, 2-year-old Kiley Francis and 7-year-old Kelly Francis, and their cousin, 19-year-old Shawntay Young, relatives said. Stewart-Francis' husband, Holt Francis, was hospitalized, the family said.

"I don't know what to do, and I don't know how to feel," said Stewart-Francis' mother, Ambrozia Stewart. "Four at one time — what do I do?"

Catastrophic fires at the turn of the 20th century ushered in an era of stricter fire code enforcement, but the building was too old to be required to have modern fireproofing such as sprinkler systems and interior steel construction, the AP reports.

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The boy who had accidentally started the fire had played with stove burners before, Nigro said.

He also noted that it's not rare for children to start fires. The fire department gets 75 or more referrals a year to a program that aims to educate children fascinated with fire about its dangers.