Politics

Youngest victim in Bronx fire was 2 years old, and cultural leader says borough neglect is to blame

It’s the very sentiment articulated in the legal language of the lawsuit, in which attorneys reportedly said that defendants “failed to ensure that the fire escapes were in good working order; failed to provide adequate and lawful heat, allowed alarms to go off all the time, failed to have an intercom system throughout the premises, failed to have a sprinkler system, (and) failed to ensure that the electric lines and systems at the subject premises were in good working order.”

The plaintiffs also accused defendants of failing to make sure doors in the building were self-closing and that smoke detectors were working properly. Self-closing doors in certain types of residences are a requirement of local law. That law states: “All doors providing access to interior corridors or stairs in occupancy groups R-1 and R-2 shall be self-closing or equipped with a device that will ensure closing after having been opened by July 31, 2021.”

The affected building, named Twin Parks North West, was part of a $166 million effort to regulate rent in 2020, and it is owned by three investment groups, LIHC Investment Group, Belveron Partners, and Camber Property Group, all of which were named in the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for the building’s owners said in an interview with The City newsroom that the buildings’ doors were self-closing. The Bronx Park Phase II Preservation, which the building’s owners belong to, said in a statement WABC obtained that it is “cooperating fully with the Fire Department and other agencies as they continue to investigate.”

The New York City Law Department said in a separate statement to media that there is an “active investigation into this tragic incident.”

“We’ll review the claim,” the law department added.

New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said during a media briefing with state and local leaders that the Bronx blaze began in a bedroom of an apartment unit that spans the second and third floors of the building. “It started in a malfunctioning electric space heater,” he said. “That was the cause of the fire. The fire consumed that apartment that is on two floors and part of the hallway. The door to that apartment unfortunately when the residents left was left open and it did not close by itself.

“The smoke spread throughout the building, thus the tremendous loss of life and other people fighting for their lives right now in hospitals all over the Bronx.”

Nigro said a door to an upper stairwell was also left open but that the 19-story building had smoke alarms throughout as well as working heat, and that the space heater was used as a supplement. “Smoke and heat travel upward. That we know,” Nigro said. “That’s what happened here.”

Dana Nicole Campbell, who lived on the building’s third floor, told The New York Times that fire alarms in the building would go off five or six times a day. “I roll my eyes,” she said. Other residents got in the habit of simply ignoring them.

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Robert Vilensky, the plaintiffs’ attorney, told The Wall Street Journal he filed a notice of claim against the city last Tuesday, warning officials of his intent to pursue another claim. He said in the initial suit he has 22 plaintiffs who have joined, and more are expected.

Lost in the fire and profiled in The New York Times were:

  • Ousmane Konteh, 2; Omar Jambang, 6; and Fatoumata Tunkara, 43.
  • Sera Janneh, a 27-year-old college student and aspiring therapist.
  • Siblings: Seydou Toure, 12; Haouwa Mahamadou, 5.
  • In the Drammeh family: Muhammed, 12; his mother Fatoumata, 50; and two sisters, Fatoumala, 21; and Nyumaaisha, 19, who also went by Aisha.
  • A married couple: Isatou Jabbie, 31 and Hagi Jawara, 47.
  • In the Dukuray family: Haja, 37, Haji, 49, Mustapha, 12, Mariam, 11, Fatoumata, 5.

Drammeh, the cultural center leader who advocated for the victims at their memorial, addressed Mayor Eric Adams and Sen. Chuck Schumer directly in assigning accountability for the tragedy. 

“Mr. Mayor, you heard? Mr. Schumer, you heard? We are No. 1 for everything bad” in the Bronx, Drammeh said. “They will never achieve the American dream because they lived in the Bronx. Their families will never see them again because they lived in the Bronx. We are having this funeral today because they lived in the Bronx.”

RELATED: Two fires, two cities, at least 16 children dead




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