Shortly before 11:00am on Sunday, a fire broke out in the 19-story Twin Parks North West apartment building at 333 East 181st street in the Tremont section of the Bronx, starting on the third floor and quickly spreading throughout the building. According to the National Fire Protection Association, “[t]he Bronx fire on Sunday that killed at least 17 people, including eight children, is the second-most deadly US home fire in nearly 40 years.”
For many years, this building has been a home to a multitude of immigrants from Gambia, a Western African country. Ambassador to the US Dawda Docka Fadera said, “I think a lot of Gambians who came here, they stayed there before they moved anywhere else. This was kind of the first port of call, this building. It’s a building Gambians have a lot of attachment to…It’s so sad that this horrific and tragic incident took so many lives, and left many people fighting for their lives…Gambia is a very small country, 2 million people. Everybody knows everybody. We are all related. It’s a shock in our country right now…They have horrific stories…It was very sad…I have never seen this in my life. This is so tragic. It’s really so huge.”
Andrew Ansbro, President of the Firefighters Association said, “It was absolutely horrific…I talked to many veteran firefighters who said it was the worst fire they had seen in their lives. They were doing CPR on people outside. It was absolutely horrific. Members operated with utmost heroism. Unfortunately, not all fires have a positive outcome. It’s horrible. This fire will be with these members forever.”
Allegedly, a malfunctioning space heater is to blame, “and an open door to the apartment allowed thick, black smoke to quickly fill the high-rise building” per a press conference with Mayor Eric Adams and Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
However, one resident of the building, who lives on the third floor where the fire broke out said that “the fire alarms in the building go off five or six times a day. When they do…‘I roll my eyes.’” Many residents described the fire alarm being such a common occurrence, people ignored it. As the building was erected in 1972, it had no fire escapes and as such stairwells were the only available and reliable way to exit the building in an emergency such as this one.
Many residents of the building were recipients of federal Section 8 vouchers, used to help pay rent, and people have taken to social media to share their outrage and speak on this injustice. One such user tweeted, “The fire was caused by a space heater. Meaning the fire was caused by a landlord. People using space heaters means a. broken windows, or b. landlord illegally withholding heat. This building has 174 violations, including for heat.”
Others also called out Mayor Adams because “Camber [Property Group’s] co-founder, Rick Gropper, was named as a member of Mr. Adams’s transition team for housing issues before Mr. Adams took office this month.” The New York Times reports that “Camber Property Group, which operates affordable housing properties across New York City, most of which are in the Bronx, is one of the fastest-growing developers of affordable housing in the city.” LIHC Investment Group, Belveron Partners, along with Camber Property Group are the group of investors and current owners of the building after purchasing it for $166 million in the beginning of 2020 in deal for eight rent-regulated buildings throughout the borough.
The newly-appointed Mayor was also criticized for his response during the press conference following the tragic ordeal. Although the investigation is ongoing, Adams hinted at a faulty door as the cause for the rapid blaze spread. He said on ABC’s “Good Morning America “It appears the ability to have the smoke spread is due to the door being open. We do have a law, as it was mentioned, that it should close automatically,” Adams said. “There may have been a maintenance issue with this door, and that’s going to be part of the ongoing investigation.”
He continued, “If we take one message from this, that Commissioner Nigro has mentioned several times: Close the door…This painful moment can turn into a purposeful moment as we send the right message of something simply as, ‘closing the door.’”
The New York Fire Department has long promoted its “Close the Door” campaign, which is meant for residents to remember to shut the door behind them when leaving a fire to avoid fueling the blaze and allowing smoke to spread.