Growing Calls for Investigation into Bronx Fire That Took Over a Dozen African Lives

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — A smoky building fire that raced through a 19-story building on an early Sunday this month took 17 lives—adults and children, many from the African nation of The Gambia—is raising questions about the building’s reported insufficient heat and automatic doors that should have been shut but weren’t working.

The January 9 fire was the city’s deadliest since 1990 when arson at an unlicensed Bronx nightclub killed 87 people, mostly Honduran and Central American immigrants.

“I live 2 blocks from where it happened and let me tell you it’s heartbreaking!” Michael C wrote on social media. “I blame the NYC Dept of Building because when it’s cold the people are forced to buy space heaters! … Right now, it’s 18F outside and my room is 50F freezing my hands off! I feel for those people! It’s a true tragedy!”

“The law, that is building and fire code, is insufficient as well as often poorly enforced, and this is the case today in the Bronx and it was as well in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory,” said Elissa Sampson, a lecturer in Jewish studies at Cornell University.

“They were our aunts and uncles and others who were coming to our food pantry since the pandemic,” said Ajifanta Marenah, secretary of the Gambian Youth Organization, just blocks from the site of last Sunday’s fire. “This is a community of people who have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet.”

The dead included Haji Dukary, 49, his wife, Haja Dukureh, 37, and their three young children. Fatoumata Tunkara, 43, and her 6-year-old son, Omar Jambang. Fatoumata Drammeh, 50, and three of her children. There was Seydou Toure, 12, and 5-year-old sister Haouwa Mahamadou. The youngest victim was 2-year-old Ousmane Konteh.

All 17 victims died of smoke inhalation, according to the city medical examiner. A communal funeral was held at the Islamic Cultural Center of the Bronx on Sunday morning, according to a board member.

“There’s a lesson to be learned about the neglect of government … and there’s a lesson to be learned about why this continues to happen in this corner of the Bronx,” said New York Attorney General Leticia James.

Tenants and relatives of the victims in Sunday’s fire have filed a class-action lawsuit against the current and previous owners of the building, which was built in 1972, according to court documents. They are seeking $2 billion in damages, according to the documents.

The city and various agencies were also given notice of a separate class-action lawsuit seeking $1 billion in damages for alleged negligence in enforcing building codes. The storefront Gambian Youth Organization filled up last week with donated clothes, boxes of baby formula, toys and other items for the displaced.

The fire started when one of several space heaters that had been running for days malfunctioned in a third-floor duplex, a fire official told CNN.

The self-closing front door of the unit failed to close, according to fire officials. The fire-fuelled smoke spread upward to the 15th floor, where another door failed to close automatically. Victims were found in stairwells on every floor, many in cardiac and respiratory arrest.

Coincidentally, in The Gambia, media this week was covering a local fire that burned a compound with 8 houses in Faraba, Niani District, Central River Region North.

Mamadou Wague, father of eight, said the sound of his children screaming jolted him awake Sunday morning. Wague, an Uber driver who emigrated to the U.S. from Mali in 2000, said the fire burned all his family’s belongings. They are staying with friends in the Bronx.

“Poor people’s fire tragedies they’re big news for a very short time and then they fade away Ray Bromley, a professor emeritus of geography and planning at the State University of New York at Albany, “By the time we get to the Super Bowl, this will be gone.”

Jaha Dukureh, who campaigned to have female genital mutilation banned in her home country, said that support from the Gambian community—both in the US and abroad—has been profound. But she added that the families affected by the blaze would need much more help. A GoFundMe page has been set up for donations. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 January 2022]

Photo: Some family members had to be carried out of the service after being overcome with grief. Credit: Dean Moses.

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