Multiple Bronx communities spent the end of January reeling from three major fires that happened over the course of just five days — which collectively displaced at least 61, injured at least seven and killed one.
The blazes, reminiscent of the last year’s tragedy at the Twin Parks North West apartment building in Fordham Heights, underscore the prevalence of structural fires in the borough.
Timeline of events
The first, a four-alarm fire at a Wakefield apartment building last week, sent three firefighters and one civilian to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
The FDNY received the call around 5 p.m. on Jan. 26, Chief John Hogens said in a press briefing after the fire. The blaze quickly spread from where it had started on the top floor of the 54-unit building to the area between the ceiling and the roof — and then across to an adjoining building. The chief said approximately 200 firefighters and EMS personnel were deployed to the scene at 4055 Carpenter Ave.
“Our members did a tremendous job getting hose lines in place quickly and getting to the scene of the fire,” Hodgens told reporters after blaze was under control.
The cause of the fire was still under investigation last week.
According to Michael de Vulpillieres, communications officer at the Red Cross of Greater New York, the day after the fire there were 61 people displaced and in need of emergency hotel lodging. Vulpillieres said the agency had already registered 114 people affected by the Wakefield fire for assistance by Wednesday morning.
Just three days later on Jan. 29, one person was killed and two others injured in a two-alarm fire at a Soundview residence, which police believe was arson.
On Jan. 30, Police said they were seeking a female suspect who was caught on a security camera in the area, in connection to the Sunday afternoon blaze in Soundview.
Fire officials told AMNewYork the blaze broke out around 2 p.m. on Jan. 29. A total of 106 firefighters from 25 units fought through debris to subdue the fire, which was deemed under control at 3:07 p.m.
Two people suffered minor injuries, according to an FDNY spokesperson, and another was pronounced dead on arrival. All three victims suffered smoke inhalation and burns, officials said.
Neither the NYPD or the FDNY had updates about the alleged arson by Wednesday. The agencies had also not released the name or age of the victim of the Soundview fire.
In an email this week, a spokesperson from the FDNY told the Bronx Times the “cause is still under investigation.”
The third major blaze was reported in the Crotona Park East neighborhood around 11 a.m. Monday. The three-alarm basement fire at 843 Freeman St. was deemed under control just a few hours later, around 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 30.
In a statement to media outside of the structure Monday, Deputy Assistant Chief John Sarrocco said 25 units and 135 personnel responded to the scene. He confirmed that there had only been one reported injury that afternoon — a firefighter who was transported to Jacobi Hospital with “minor” burns. Four people lived in that building, the chief said.
“Units did a great job keeping fire out of both exposures, on both the left and right side of the building,” Sarrocco told the media.
The cause of the Crotona Park East fire was still under investigation earlier this week.
Fire in the Bronx
These major fires capped the first month of the year, contributing not only to the borough’s spike in blazes over the past two decades, but also the particularly devastating legacy the month embodies for many in the borough.
That’s because in Fordham Heights last January, 17 people lost their lives in the deadliest fire in New York City since 1990. The five-alarm blaze at the Twin Parks North West high-rise on Jan. 9 originated from a faulty space heater on the third floor and spread rapidly because of defective self-closing doors. The victims, all of whom were of West African descent, included eight children — the youngest just 2 years old.
The catastrophic fire at Twin Parks prompted action from all sides of the aisle: some survivors filed lawsuits against building owners while some others filed public grievances over the city’s response, and public officials from all levels of government introduced and reintroduced fire safety legislation.
U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres sponsored the Empowering the U.S. Fire Administration Act, which was passed in December and created a federal process to investigate major blazes.
In an interview with the Bronx Times about the Twin Parks blaze in December, Torres said improving fire safety in the borough is an “ongoing effort.”
“It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to prompt preventative legislation,” Torres said. “The Bronx has had four of the deadliest fires in the city over the last 30 years and that’s not a coincidence.”
For at least four decades the Bronx has been plagued by large-scale fires — some of them insurance scheme arson blazes. In 1976, an arson fire at the Puerto Rican Social Club killed 25 people, and in 1990 there were 87 fatalities in the Happy Land Social Club arson.
More recently, a five-alarm blaze in Belmont in December 2017 — which killed 13 people — resulted in legislation requiring residential buildings to have self-closing doors to prevent the spread of fire.
According to 311 data, there were more than 17,600 reports of structural fires in the Bronx from 2018 to 2020. And during those years, the borough had the second-highest number of structural fires after Brooklyn.
Vulpillieres, with the Red Cross, said the Bronx saw a 20% increase in fires from 2002 to 2021 — the highest among all New York City boroughs.
The agency responded to both the Wakefield fire last week and the Twin Parks fire last January. After the blaze on Jan. 26, Vulpillieres said personnel were stationed outside of 4055 Carpenter Ave. until around midnight, with more returning the day after.
He said the agency continues to stand with fire victims.
“Our role is to support in the immediate aftermath, and to guide (people) through recovery,” Vulpillieres said. “Our hearts go out to everybody.”
— Robbie Sequeira, Aliya Schneider, Nicholas Hernandez, Meaghan McGoldrick and Lloyd Mitchell contributed to this report
Reach Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes