US: A week after Bronx fire, families to bury their loved ones

A Bronx community gathers on Sunday to pay its final respects to perished loved ones, a week after a fire filled an apartment building with thick, suffocating smoke that killed 17 people, including eight children.

The mass funeral, to begin at the Islamic Cultural Center at 10 am, will culminate a week of prayers and mourning within a close-knit community hailing from West Africa. All of those being buried on Sunday have ties to the country of Gambia.

Earlier in the week, burial services were held for two children at a mosque in Harlem, among nine adults and eight children who died in New York City’s deadliest fire in decades.

Officials blamed a faulty space heater in a third-floor apartment for the blaze, which spewed plumes of suffocating smoke that quickly rose through the stairwell of the 19-storey building.

All of the dead collapsed and died after being overcome by the smoke while trying to descend the stairs, which acted as a flue for the heavy smoke.

As family buried their loved ones, others remained in hospitals, some in serious condition, because of smoke inhalation.

The dead ranged in age from 2 years old to 50 years old. Entire families were killed, including a family of five. Others would leave behind orphaned children.

Fundraisers have collected nearly US$400,000 thus far. The Mayor’s Fund, Bank of America and other groups said 118 families displaced by the fire would each get US$2,250 in aid.

The investigation into the fire is ongoing.

Much of the focus centres on the catastrophic spread of the smoke from the apartment.

The fire itself was contained to one unit and an adjoining hallway, but investigators said the door to the apartment and a stairway door many floors up had been left open, creating a flue that allowed smoke to quickly spread throughout the building.


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