Single Candle Sparked Hell's Kitchen High-Rise Fire

NY Daily News - December 24, 2016

by MOLLY CRANE-NEWMAN GRAHAM RAYMAN

The raging fire in a Hell’s Kitchen high-rise that injured 23 people was sparked by candles, the FDNY said Friday.

A 7-year-old girl is in critical condition and two babies, each about 1, were hospitalized in serious condition after Thursday’s four-alarm blaze on W. 59th St. near 10th Ave., the FDNY tweeted.

Flames ignited in a third-floor apartment where a woman was wrapping Christmas presents in a bathrobe near candles, FDNY Manhattan Borough Commander Chief Roger Sakowich said.

What that woman did once she saw her bathrobe was smoking led to the fire spreading, Sakowich explained.

“She removed the clothing and threw that on the couch ... and then left the apartment, and in doing so she left the door open,” he said.

The apartment’s smoke alarm was not working, officials said.

“The apartment was incinerated,” a source said. “The public hallway, and ultimately the stairwell, they both became contaminated.”

Many of the 21 injuries happened because people fled their fire-safe apartments, rather than remain inside, officials said.

Heavy smoke trapped many residents on upper floors. At least 10 people had to be rescued after retreating to the roof of the 33-story tower.

Their injuries could have been totally avoided had they just stayed inside, Mancuso said.

"You should stay put in the apartment. You should put something under the door, keep the smoke out, go to your window, get air, call 911.”

The 7-year-old girl overcome by smoke was revived by fast-acting neighbors who performed CPR and medics who rushed to the scene. She remains hospitalized in critical but stable condition, with her mom by her side, Mancuso said.

By Friday morning, most of the patients had been treated and released but among those still hospitalized were four firefighters, officials said.

All of the fire’s victims are expected to survive.

"The firemen were great, absolutely fantastic," said resident Diane Murgia. "It's (the smoke damage) pretty bad on some floors."

The building is home to residents and doctors with Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital.

Sarah Lyles, 66, lived in the building for 25 years until she retired from nursing earlier this year.

She said a friend living on the 31st floor told her some tenants were told to go up on the roof.

“She was on the roof for about two hours," she said. "Finally, she was told she was able to safely return. And then, every 15 minutes or so, the Fire Department or the Police Department was knocking on their doors to make sure everything was alright. She was kind of distraught."

Mancuso advised against going to the roof.

“All the heat and gas are at the top of the stairwell, so you don't want to do that,” he said. “You want to stay put in your apartment ... Most people die from leaving their apartment than staying put in the apartment."

Mancuso said that while management install fire alarms in apartments, it's the tenants’ responsibility, not the landlords, to make sure they are maintained.

He said the biggest causes of fire are candles, cooking fires, smoking, and electric.

He also warned against plugging space heaters into power strips or extension cords — safest to plug directly into the wall.

Lyles said the close-knit building is like a family. "Everyone comes together and helps everybody out," she said. "We make sure everyone is OK. It's not like your typical luxury high-rise."

Lyles said she was obligated under the terms of her lease to move out when she retired, but she wanted to stay.

"I feel a little bit like the lucky passenger on a doomed flight," she said of missing the fire. "It could have been worse."