In the Bronx at a residential building named Twin Peaks, hundreds of residents were the victims of a fire in a residential building. The fire killed 17 people, including 8 children. All victims died of smoke inhalation.
The fire was most likely caused by a malfunctioning space heater that created “billowing” smoke that caused the building’s stairwells to become very dangerous. The building had violated many different safety procedures and laws – there were no fire escapes, a building-wide sprinkler system, or doors that are meant to close automatically.
Although major headlines are putting the emphasis on the space heater causing the fire, it’s important to understand that space heaters are used by tenants when landlords do not provide heating. The NYTimes reports that many residents heard the fire alarm beeping, but ignored it due to it beeping incessantly at random times. When they saw the smoke and fire, panic ensued. To read more of the residents’ efforts to get to safety, read here (content warning). NYC Mayor Eric Adams was quoted as repeatedly urging other residents to “close the door” when a fire is spotted in a building. His words were seen by many as blaming the victims, and some investigating leads to uncovering the reality that a member of Adams’ transition team is a part-owner of the Twin Peaks.
Those killed in the fire were immigrants from Gambia and West Africa. The youngest was 2 years old, the oldest, 50. The funeral of the victims was attended by over a thousand community members. A religious leader in the Gambian diaspora community led the service, opening the caskets of 15 victims for display. He says to The Washington Post, “We are doing this to make everyone here feel uncomfortable,” hoping to motivate lawmakers to take action to ensure that this never happens again.The religious leader further said that if the residents lived in midtown Manhattan, an affluent area, “we would not have the funeral. They would not need space heaters.”
This sentiment rings loud and impactful, and it’s speak to the hypocrisy and reality of American society. When members of lower-income areas are killed by smoke from fires, the space heater is blamed, rather than the reality that there shouldn’t be a need for an external space heater in the New York winter. Landlords should provide heating for their residents. In affordable housing units, there should be an emphasis to ensure safety measures; there should be a quality of life.
Many have taken to social media to express how the disregard for Black, brown, and immigrant communities leads to perpetual loss of life. Those in the UK have underlined similarities of the Bronx fire to the Grenfell building fire, which killed 72 people and affected over 200 people. Grenfell, similar to the Bronx fire, was a building that housed a high number of Muslim residents, immigrants, and lower-income peoples. The response to the Grenfell tower has been lacking, with many activists still pushing policymakers to enact change. Recently, a video of a fire at a chemical plant in Passaic, New Jersey was circulating on Twitter due to the chemical plant being right next to residential buildings and homes. Questions around the safety of the residential buildings being so close to a chemical plant were brought up. Yet, policy and lawmakers remain silent, offering thoughts and prayers to those most impacted by bad infrastructure – Black Americans, immigrants, the working class.
As we ponder the situation that created such a horrific event, we memorialize and pray for the victims of the fire: Isatou Jabbie, 31; Hagi Jawara, 47; Ousmane Konteh, 2; Sera Janneh, 27; Seydou Toure, 12; Haouwa Mahamadou, 5; Haji Dukary, 49; Haja Dukureh, 37; Mustapha Dukureh, 12; Mariam Dukureh, 11; Fatoumata Dukureh, 5; Fatoumata Drammeh, 50; Foutmala Drammeh, 21; Muhammed Drammeh, 12; Nyumaaisha Drammeh, 19; Omar Jambang, 6; and Fatoumata Tunkara, 43.