Seven children, ages 5 to 15, from an Orthodox Jewish family in Midwood, Brooklyn, were killed early on Saturday when a fire that spread through their home trapped them in their second-floor bedrooms, the NY Times reported.
Their mother and one teenage sister were able to escape alive through windows.
Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro blamed the fire on a malfunctioning electric hot plate, used to keep food warm on Shabbat.
The fire was sparked in the first-floor kitchen, then moved up to the second floor, turning the open stairwell into a column of flames, and reaching the bedrooms, where the mother and her eight children were sleeping. The children were trapped in their bedrooms as thick smoke filled up the halls.
Witnesses reported screams bursting through the cold night air.
Commissioner Nigro called it the worst tragedy by fire in the city recent memory.
“It’s a tragedy for this family, it’s a tragedy for this community, it’s a tragedy for the city, ” he said.
The commissioner said fire investigators found a smoke detector in the basement, but none elsewhere in the house.
“There was no evidence of smoke detectors on either the first or the second floor that may have alerted this family to the fire, ” he said.
A neighbor, Nate Weber, told the NY Daily News that he heard the children’s mother yelling for someone to save her children, after she had jumped down from a second floor window.
“I heard a woman yelling: ‘My kids are in there. Get them out! Get them out!'” he said.