Bronx Fire Kills at Least 19 People, Injures Dozens More

Portable electric space heater the likely cause

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A fire at 333 East 181st Street in the Bronx killed at least 19 people on Sunday. A portable electric space heater in a duplex on the second and third floors of the 19-story apartment building was the apparent cause of the fire, officials said.

Firefighters began responding to the blaze around 11 a.m. By the afternoon, there were reports of fatalities — including nine children — and dozens of injuries. New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said firefighters were on the scene within three minutes of an initial call from a neighbor.

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“They were met in the hallway with this fire, very heavy smoke, very heavy fire,” Nigro said. “Units pushed in. The smoke extended the entire height of the building, which is very unusual. Members found victims on every floor and in stairwells, and were taking them out in cardiac and respiratory arrest.”

Mayor Eric Adams called the fire “one of the worst” in the city’s modern history, and noted that 32 people had been hospitalized with what he described as life-threatening injuries. A further nine had “serious” injuries and 22 non-life-threatening ones. Adams said during a press conference Sunday evening that an electric space heater was the fire’s likely caused. Nigro confirmed that later during the same conference.

“We are investigating where everyone was found, how the smoke traveled, but certainly the marshals have determined — through physical evidence and through firsthand accounts by the residents — that this fire started in a bedroom in a portable electric heater,” Nigro said.

The heat was on in the building, and the space heater was being used to supplement that heat, Nigro said. Smoke alarms were also on in the building, he said. The initial call to firefighters came via a neighbor of the duplex apartment hearing an alarm and calling the New York Fire Department, according to Nigro.

The 125,685-square-foot 333 East 181st Street dates from 1972, and contains 120 units. It last sold for $10.57 million in a deal that closed in January 2020, according to city records, and that was part of a $170 million sale of several affordable housing properties in the Bronx. The buyer was a joint venture between  LIHC Investment Group, Belveron Partners and Camber Property Group; the seller was Cammeby’s International Group.

This is a developing story.

Tom Acitelli can be reached at tacitelli@commercialobserver.com.