12 die in New York fire 'started by three-year-old playing with stove'
A three-year-old boy playing with the burners on his mother's stove accidentally lit New York City's deadliest fire in decades, turning an apartment building into an inferno that killed 12 people.
Smoke and flames swept up the stairwell in minutes, blocking the main route to safety, the fire commissioner said.
The boy, his mother and another child were able to flee their first-floor apartment. But they left the door open behind them, and it acted like a chimney that carried Thursday's fire out of the apartment and through the five-storey building, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
At least 20 of their neighbours scrambled out via fire escapes but others could not.
"People had very little time to react," Mr Nigro said.
Although firefighters arrived in just over three minutes, "bravely entered the building and did everything they could - we did save a number of residents - this loss is unprecedented", he said.
Twelve people died, including girls aged eight months, two and seven and a boy whose age was not given, officials said. Four other people were fighting for their lives.
Fernando Batiz said his sister, Maria Batiz, 56, and her eight-month-old granddaughter, were among the dead, though the baby's mother survived.
"They couldn't escape ... The smoke, I guess, overcame her - everything happened so quick," said Mr Batiz.
Twum Bredu, 61, arrived in the area looking for his brother, who had been staying with a family in the building.
The family, a husband and wife and four children, got out. But there was no word about his brother.
"I've been calling his phone, it's ringing, but nobody picks up," Mr Bredu said. "He was in his room, and we don't know what happened."
Excluding 9/11, it was the deadliest blaze in the city since 87 people were killed at a social club fire in the same Bronx district in 1990.
Thursday's fire broke out just before 7pm in a century-old building near the Bronx Zoo. Its roughly 20 apartments are home to people from countries ranging from the US to the Dominican Republic to Guinea.
About 170 firefighters worked in bitterly cold temperatures to rescue dozens of people.
Residents described opening their front doors to see smoke too thick to walk through and clambering down icy fire escapes with their children.
The boy who accidentally started the fire had played with stove burners before, Mr Nigro said.