NEW YORK (AP) — A fire apparently caused by a malfunctioning hotplate left on for the Sabbath tore through a Brooklyn home early Saturday, leaving seven children from the same Orthodox Jewish family dead and their mother and another child in critical condition, authorities said.
Three girls – ages 8, 12, 15 – and four boys – ages 5, 6, 7 and 11 – were killed, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
A teenage girl survived along with a woman who is believed to be the mother of all eight children by jumping from second-floor windows, he said. Both were hospitalized after suffering burns and smoke inhalation.
The commissioner called it the worst tragedy by fire in the city recent memory.
“It’s a tragedy for this family, it’s a tragedy for this community, it’s a tragedy for the city,” he said.
The fatal fire started shortly after midnight while the children were asleep in five bedrooms in the rear of the home in Midwood, a leafy section of Brooklyn known for its low crime and large Orthodox Jewish population. Fire investigators believe a hot plate left on a kitchen counter ignited the flames that raced up the stairs to the second floor, Nigro said.
More than 100 firefighters responded and brought the fire, Nigro said. After forcing their way in, the firefighters found the young victims motionless in their bedrooms.
“It’s difficult to find one child in a room during a search,” he said. “To find a houseful of seven children that can’t be revived …”
The names of the deceased were not released. Nigro said he believes the father is at a conference and officials have not yet been able to contact him.
Many religious Jews do not use electricity on the Sabbath, along with refraining from work and observing other prohibitions meant to keep the day holy. As a result, some families may leave them on so they are usable without violating any religious laws or traditions.
Neighbors who spoke to reporters declined to give their names, but expressed great sadness over the fire.
Fire investigators found a smoke detector in the basement of the home, but so far none have been found elsewhere in the house, Nigro said.
“There was no evidence of smoke detectors on either the first or the second floor that may have alerted this family to the fire,” he said.
Neighbor Nate Weber told the New York Post that he saw children being wheeled away on stretchers.
“I just turned away. I didn’t even want to look,” he said.
Weber told the New York Daily News he heard the children’s mother yelling for someone to rescue her children after she jumped from a window.
“I heard a woman yelling: `My kids are in there. Get them out! Get them out!'” he told the Post.
The last residential blaze with a similar death toll happened in 2007, when eight children and an adult were killed in a fire in a 100-year-old building in the Bronx where several African immigrant families lived. Fire officials said an overheated space heater cord sparked that blaze.