BRONX FIRE: Vigil planned for 17 killed as officials sound alarm about space heaters

Local clergy members gather and pray in front of a Bronx apartment building a day after a fire swept through the complex killing at least 17 people and injuring dozens of others, many of them seriously on January 10, 2022 in New York City
Local clergy members gather and pray in front of a Bronx apartment building a day after a fire swept through the complex killing at least 17 people and injuring dozens of others, many of them seriously on January 10, 2022 in New York City. Photo credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- While officials continue to warn New Yorkers about the dangers of space heaters, a vigil is planned for Tuesday night to honor the 17 people who died in Sunday’s high-rise residential fire in the Bronx, as more than 30 people remain hospitalized, including 13 in critical condition.

The vigil to mourn the victims is set for Tuesday night at 6 p.m. near P.S. 391-East 181st Street, between Folin Street and Tiebout Avenue in Tremont, close to the Twin Parks Towers North West, where nine adults and eight children—including boys and girls between the ages of 4 and 12 years old—were killed in the smoky fire.

Ten children were among the residents hospitalized in various conditions, according to WABC.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro told 1010 WINS on Tuesday it might never be known what caused the self-closing door in a second-floor apartment duplex to malfunction and spread smoke throughout the building as residents tried to escape.

"Because of this serious fire it is so deformed, it is hard to tell. All we know was that it was open all the way ... whether it jammed on the floor, whether the mechanism was too weak to close it or something else prevented it, all we do know for sure is that door that could have closed behind him and prevented these deaths did not."

The Bronx apartment building stands a day after a fire swept through the complex killing at least 17 people and injuring dozens of others, many of them seriously on January 10, 2022 in New York City
The Bronx apartment building stands a day after a fire swept through the complex killing at least 17 people and injuring dozens of others, many of them seriously on January 10, 2022 in New York City. Photo credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Nigro said investigators may be able to determine what caused a door on the 15th floor to remain open "that contributed to the spread of the smoke."

The cause could be determined this week, he added.

On WCBS 880, the commissioner said that the death toll could have been worse if not for the efforts of first responders and denied claims that staffing shortages affected the outcome.

"No fire department in the world can put more people on the scene than we can," he said. "255 firefighters and upwards of 100 medical personnel responded to that building. There were no operational difficulties, and the members that did respond [went] over and above their performance."

The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner said Tuesday that all 17 victims died of accidental smoke inhalation. Their identities have not yet been confirmed.

The owners of the building said in an email that all of the doors were self-closing as required by law. The lock on the door to the duplex where the fire started was changed in July, and the door was checked and found to be working.

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Residents on the top three floors were allowed to move back into the building on Monday, with more expected to follow as clean-up crews continue to respond to the charred building.

"The cleaning residue, water damage, fire damage, the window replacement, door replacement, locksmith. Everyone is here, working around the clock," Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson said Tuesday.

As an investigation into the fire continues, an FDNY source told WCBS-TV that several space heaters were found in the duplex apartment, including one that had reportedly been left on for days.

On PIX 11, Nigro told New Yorkers to take several precautions with space heaters: make sure they’ve been tested for safety and are UL listed; plug them directly into a wall and never into an extension cord; make sure they’re over 3 feet from anything combustible; and turn them off overnight while sleeping.

The FDNY also released a public service announcement on space heaters, as temperatures plunged into the single digits and teens on Tuesday.

Mayor Eric Adams also said that the city would do public service announcements and have lessons for schoolchildren on the importance of shutting doors in a fire emergency.

Rep. Ritchie Torres promised federal assistance for the investigation, with a focus on space heaters, sprinkler systems and self-closing doors.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Torres called for all agencies tasked with inspecting the building to release their inspections to the public.

Gibson, who joined the Congressman as well as City Council Members Oswald Feliz and Pierina Sanchez, added that the need for permanent housing for residents is "a must and a priority."

"We will honor every wish that comes forward from all of these residents," she said.

Sunday’s fire is the deadliest in the city since 87 people were killed in an arson at the Happy Land social club in the Bronx in 1990.