The child’s mother, in rushing to safety with her son and her 2-year-old, left their apartment door open — creating a lethal condition where flames rocketed up the stairway of the five-story building in mere seconds.
“The stairs acted like a chimney, and took the fire so quickly upstairs that people had very little time to react,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro told a Friday news conference outside the building.
“They couldn’t get back down the stairs. Those that tried, a few of them perished. … Most of the deaths occurred pretty early, some of them before we could arrive.”
The fast-moving flames were further whipped by desperate residents opening their windows to escape via the fire escapes, stoking the already raging blaze.
High-ranking FDNY sources said the panicked little boy began screaming after the flames started spreading in the kitchen.
“Fire!” he howled. “Fire!”
The victims reportedly included four members of a single family: Karen Francis, 38, Shawntay Young, Kelesha Francis, 7, and Kylie Francis, 2.
The quartet, found huddled in the bathroom of their home, died a short time later at St. Barnabas Hospital, an FDNY source indicated.
The bodies of Maria Batiz, 56, and her 8-month-old granddaughter Amora Serenity Vidal were found clutching each other in a third-floor apartment bathtub where they sought shelter from the flames.
The other unidentified victims, at least three of them men, were found in hallways and the building’s lone stairwell, the FDNY source said.
Authorities said four survivors were still fighting for their lives Friday.
According to Nigro, there were 20 building residents outside on the fire escapes when the FDNY arrived about three minutes after the first 911 call on the blaze.
The Thursday night blaze was the city’s deadliest fire tragedy since the infamous Happy Land social club arson killed 87 people in 1990.
Nigro blamed a combination of the flames and heavy smoke for the deaths in the century-old building in the Belmont section.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, on his weekly Friday radio show, described the Christmas week carnage as “a horrible, tragic accident” while absolving the building’s landlord of any role in the nightmare.
Fire survivor Reginal Ramdhanie, 51, recounted a terrifying scene where people were trapped inside their apartments because the fire escapes were full — with no one directing the evacuees to the ground.
“There was no room for people to come out,” he said. “I helped most people come down from the second and third floor.”
Two other residents recounted spending 30 harrowing minutes on the fire escapes after the blaze erupted around 7 p.m. Thursday.
The 3-year-old boy, who had a history of playing with the burners, was alone in the kitchen when he started turning the jets on and off, said Nigro.
“Before the mother knew it, the fire had a good hold in the kitchen,” the commissioner said. “She grabbed the children and ran out.”
But the mom left the apartment door open in her haste, with the flames spreading quickly into the hallway and then up the stairwell to the top floor almost instantaneously.
The mother and both children made it out alive.
An unidentified man and child taken out of the fire died at Jacobi Medical Center, authorities said.
Mothers and their children could be seen frantically scrambling down building fire escapes after the fire broke out.
Many of the victims wore just shorts and shirts on as they raced outside, bracing themselves against the frigid 12-degree temperatures.
There were reports that the first floor had no working smoke detectors as recently as a month ago.
Nigro said the building was fitted with smoke alarms, but it was unclear if all were working.
The apartment house was sold by the city for $31,029 in December 1983, five years after the property was seized for non-payment of taxes.
(With Jillian Jorgensen.)
©2017 New York Daily News
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