NEW YORK — A fast-moving fire killed five people, including three children, as flames surged through a New York City home on a sunny spring afternoon, leaving authorities to scour for clues about what sparked the deadly blaze.
The fire broke out Sunday afternoon, on a street full of single-family homes in the middle class neighbourhood of Queens Village, a neighbourhood near Belmont Park, which hosts the Belmont Stakes, the final leg in horse racing's Triple Crown. Television news footage showed flames chewing through the roof of the two-story home and roaring in upstairs rooms of the house as smoke poured from it.
"This is a devastation of a family," Mayor Bill de Blasio said, speaking at the scene of the four-alarm fire. He said it was "a fire that moved very, very quickly, and the loss was horrendous."
"There's a lot we need to know about what happened here," the Democrat added.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said a passing motorist saw someone tumble from a two-story window as smoke billowed, and called the fire department. The victim, a roughly 46-year-old man, fell onto a porch roof and then a lawn and survived, Nigro said.
The wood-frame home burned rapidly and was already engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived. They struggled to reach some of the victims who were as high up as the attic, a "super-human" task for firefighters to reach people in a home engulfed by such a massive fire, Nigro said. They managed to bring a 2-year-old and someone else from the attic where they had been trapped, he said.
A neighbouring home also caught fire and was badly damaged, but no one was inside at the time.
The victims ranged in age from 2 to 21, plus one adult who was somewhat older, fire officials said.
Four firefighters suffered minor injuries; no other people were injured.
Neighbour Dorothy Murray told reporters that when she looked out her door and saw the fire, "I could have fainted."
"The fire was so intense — there's no way in the world nobody could go over there to save nobody," said Murray.
She said she babysat sometimes for one of the children — "cute little fellow," she said. "He's adorable."
First-responders carried a limp child from the wreckage.
"It was the worst thing I've ever seen in my life," neighbour Foster McPhee, 67, told the New York Post. "The guy who was carrying the baby out, you could just see the stress on his face. I'm just emotional about it because I'm a grandfather and I have kids, too."
There was no immediate theory on what started the blaze, but Nigro said there appeared to be no explosion, even though witnesses reported hearing loud booms.
Witness Tiasha Johnson told the Daily News of New York that the family's relative screamed for the little ones.
"They were screaming, 'Get the kids out! Get the kids out!'" Johnson said. "It took the firefighters a while to get in. The fire was pretty bad. They were jumping from the windows. The smoke was heavy."
Firefighters tried to save the family even as the rescuers mourned one of their own, firefighter William Tolley, who died Thursday after falling five stories while battling a blaze in Queens.
The fire was the deadliest in the nation's biggest city since March 2015, when a house fire in Brooklyn killed seven children, all siblings. That fire was touched off by a hot plate.
Colleen Long And Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press