Holiday Tragedy in Belmont; 12 Confirmed Dead in Fire

(Photos by David Greene)

Holiday Tragedy in Belmont; 12 Confirmed Dead 

Community Rocked by Happy Land 30 Years Ago Suffers Fresh Tragedy

By David Greene

BRONX- 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.

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.

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 fire escapes when firefighters arrived. A child was reported to be the first victim removed from the scene by paramedics.

With the temperature hovering at 18 degrees without the windchill, firefighters removed residents from the fire escapes, before members used axes to break windows to enter apartments on the second, third and fourth floor.

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

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.

Assemblyman Sepulveda offers warm clothing, diapers to surviving victims of fatal Bronx fire

In response to the fatal fire that killed at least 12 people, including three young children, Bronx Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda is offering warm clothing, diapers and other supplies to the surviving victims.

Sepulveda said his office is working now to get these supplies to the victims. The supplies were originally donated to his office to help refugees who fled to New York from Puerto Rico and the islands to escape the devastation of Hurricane Maria, as well as to be shipped to the islands.

"I can't imagine the devastation the survivors of this fire are going through, losing loved ones, their posessions and their homes," said Sepulveda. "Making matters worse, many fled for their lives with just the clothing on their backs into the freezing cold. This is the least we can do to help them."

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.   

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