A door that malfunctioned and was left open in an apartment in which a defective heater started a fire caused heavy smoke to spread through a residential high-rise building in the Bronx and lead to the death of 19 people including 9 children. Another 32 people who suffered critical injury and 3 who suffered serious injury were rushed to the hospital. 19 other people suffered minor injuries and were treated at the scene. This is the most catastrophic fire in New York City since the Happy Land fire 30 years ago. A couple, Mahamadou Toure and his wife, lost 2 of their 5 children in the fire.
The fire started in a duplex located at the third floor of a building located at 333 E. 181st St. in the Bronx and was caused by a defective space heater. The door of the apartment where the fire started was left open and a very heavy black smoke invaded all the hallways of the building. The building had no fire escape and the stairwells that were supposed to be used as emergency exits quickly filled with heavy smoke. The smoke also invaded all the stairwell exits that were left open. Firefighters found victims in cardiac arrest on every floor and in the stairwells. Other people were trapped in their apartments. Those on the highest floor were told by 911 to put towels at the bottom of their door and stay in their apartment until they were told it would be safe to go out. People on the lowest floors closer to the fire were evacuated by their window.
The building that was built in 1972 under federal guidelines had multiple units converted into duplexes. According to FDNY some spaces were hard to reach because of the old design of the building.