UPDATED: Eight hospitalized, one dead in building explosion on Fox Street

A gas explosion left seven others hurt at 689 Fox Street on Jan 18.
Firefighters respond to an explosion on Fox Street in the Bronx on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 18.
Photo Lloyd Mitchell

This story was updated at 8:00 p.m.

A Bronx building exploded at the corner of Fox and Tiffany streets in the Longwood section of the Bronx around 10:53 a.m. Tuesday, and officials are investigating whether it’s related to a gas scent reported earlier in the morning.

The FDNY responded to the 869 Fox St. two-alarm fire, which officials declared a major emergency, within 4 minutes, according to FDNY officials.

Firefighters sprayed water at the three-story residence as dark smoke emerged from the windows and roof.

Approximately 200 fire and EMS personnel responded, according to FDNY Chief John Hodgens.

An NYPD spokeswoman told the Bronx Times three civilians and five officers were hospitalized, as of 1:40 p.m. Martha Dagbasta, a 77-year-old resident who was transported to Lincoln Hospital had died, and an 82-year-old woman and 68-year-old woman were in stable condition at Lincoln. Three officers were admitted to Jacobi Medical Center and two officers to Lincoln Hospital for smoke inhalation.

At a press conference shortly before 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Hodgens said the woman who died was one of two sisters who were inside the building during the explosion, and then found laying on the ground outside. The surviving sister is in serious condition, he said.

Mayor Eric Adams said police officers carried out a woman who was trapped inside a burning building next door to the explosion. That woman, 68, has serious injuries but is expected to survive, Hodgens said.

A mattress from inside the collapsing structure is among the remnants of the fire on Tuesday, Jan. 18. Photo Lloyd Mitchell

“This tragic and frightening event after the inferno we saw just days ago just really adds the pressure on the Bronx and all those who have experienced overcoming this issue as it seems to continue to unfold right now,” Adams said on Tuesday, referencing the Jan. 9 fire at Twin Parks North West in Fordham Heights, which killed 17, including eight children.

Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson said she was at the Fordham Heights site when she learned about the Longwood fire.

“While the Bronx is no stranger to fires, we are going to continue to work together as a community to make sure that we provide all of the services that are necessary for the homeowners and for the residents,” Gibson said.

City Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr., whose district encompasses Tuesday’s South Bronx fire scene, had said on Twitter during the fire that the flames came from a gas explosion. He tweeted an hour after the fire was reported that it was still burning.

But whether the fire came from a gas explosion is still under investigation, Adams said.

Someone reported smelling gas early Tuesday morning, prior to the 10:53 a.m. explosion, but officials want to be confident before declaring the cause, Hodgens said.

“We will be on scene operating as we sift through the rubble just to look for any type of evidence,” the fire chief said.

The building that exploded and two adjacent connecting buildings are all destroyed and need to be demolished, Hodgens said. Two nearby buildings need structural work but can be saved.

Adams said the gas was shut off on the entire block and the city wants to get it back on as soon as possible, adding that many seniors live in the area.

“The goal is to do an expeditious but safe investigation so we can get people back into their homes,” Adams said.

Salamanca said many buildings on the block burned down in the ’70s and ’80s and had been revitalized in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “To see these fires really breaks our hearts and breaks our homeowners’ hearts,” he said. “But what I did see here today was, as I was talking to homeowners, they knew who and the names of those individuals that live in each and every one of those homes.”

There was one man neighbors thought went missing, but they called his family and learned he was in Puerto Rico, Salamanca said.

St. Athanasius Church, on Tiffany Street, opened its doors to residents impacted by the fire, and the Red Cross is providing assistance.

Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin said he couldn’t believe it when he heard another fire erupted in the Bronx, and that he and Gov. Kathy Hochul will ensure the state does everything it can to help those impacted.

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.