Bronx apartment building fire is New York City’s deadliest fire in decades

Credit…David Dee Delgado for The New York Times

Wesley Patterson was in the bathroom just before 11 a.m. on Sunday when his girlfriend knocked on the door to say she saw flames coming out of another unit.

It only took a few moments for the apartment to fill with smoke, said Mr Patterson, who has lived in the building for 20 years.

“We were just trying to breathe,” said Mr. Patterson, 28. He rushed with his girlfriend and brother, who lives with the couple, to a back window.

He tried to open it but the frame was so hot he burned his hands. When he opened the window he started yelling at the firefighters who were helping a family in the 3M apartment. Firefighters couldn’t reach them yet, he said.

Mr Patterson said he had to keep opening and closing the window to prevent smoke from entering as he called for help.

“I was screaming, ‘Please help me! Please come and get us! ‘ “, he said.

The family tried to open the door, but the apartment was flooded with more smoke.

“I was thinking about my son and wondering if I was ever going to see him again,” Mr. Patterson said.

It was around 11:20 a.m. Mr Patterson said he and his family were taken out of the window by the fire department.

“I’m glad we made it out safe and sound, but I still can’t believe that happened,” he said.

Dana Nicole Campbell, 47, was in a nearby park, working as a gardener for the city, when one of her four teenage children called to say smoke was entering their third-floor apartment. Ms Campbell said she told them to put wet towels at the foot of the door to prevent more smoke from entering the apartment and barricading itself inside the apartment.

Then she rushed to the building and arrived in time to see her children jump out of the third floor window. They landed on a mattress and garbage bags that people had put there as a makeshift landing pad. Ms Campbell later said she was grateful her children were unharmed.

“You can be here tomorrow with broken legs,” she said. “You can’t be here tomorrow with the smoke inhaling.”

Firefighters helped Cristal Diaz escape with his two aunts, aged 49 and 65, and three cousins, from their smoky apartment on the 15th floor. Ms Diaz, who left the Dominican Republic two years ago, only took her phone and ID with her when she left. “We don’t know what to do right now, and tomorrow I’m supposed to be working,” said Ms. Diaz, who works as a cashier. The family is currently staying with friends.

Ms Diaz said she was drinking coffee, as she does every morning when disaster struck.

“I thought, will this be the last time I have coffee with my family?” Ms. Diaz, 27, recalled, still in shock.

Members of the Wague family stood at the corner of Avenue Tiebout and Rue Folin, huddled together, some under blankets, after escaping from their third-floor apartment.

Mamadou Wague was awakened by one of his children. “I get up and there is smoke in the children’s rooms,” said Mr Wague, 47.

As the family rushed out of the apartment, one of Mr Wague’s children cried that their sister, Nafisha, 8, was missing. Mr Wague rushed to her bedroom and found her sitting on her bed screaming, he said. Mr. Wague grabbed her and ran out.

Ahouss Balima, 20, lived on the ninth floor of the building, with his three younger sisters and his parents. He and his family had fallen asleep on Sunday morning when he was awakened by the sound of someone crying for help.

Mr Balima went to wake his family and they rushed downstairs, only to be told by the firefighters on the 6th floor that they couldn’t come down any further because it was too dangerous.

After finally being rescued by firefighters, one of her sisters was rushed to hospital, and she was still in critical condition on Sunday evening.

By 3:30 p.m., the fire was under control and a slight odor of smoke persisted in the air. Several residents were standing nearby. Some wore sneakers, others wore winter coats, and a few had blankets wrapped around their shoulders. A few people huddled under nearby scaffolding to escape the biting wind. Several held their phones close to their faces to assure affected family members that they were alive.

About James K. Bonnette

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