A family of six, including four children no older than 11, died in a blaze that started on the kitchen stove before it tore through their Harlem apartment early Wednesday, officials say.
A source close to the probe tells News 4 investigators found a burner in the "on" position and something was cooking on the stove at the time they fire broke out in a fifth-floor apartment kitchen at the Frederick E. Samuel Apartments on Seventh Avenue. Family members told investigators the mother, 45-year-old Andrea Pollidore, would disconnect her smoke alarm when cooking, the source said.
The FDNY on Wednesday evening confirmed the fire was caused by unattended cooking. The department didn't recover a smoke alarm, it said.
Pollidore and her children -- 4- and 8-year-old boys, 6- and 11-year-old girls -- along with a 33-year-old male relative perished in the blaze.
One neighbor said he'll never forget the screams.
The victims were found unresponsive in two back bedrooms after firefighters doused the flames; they were all pronounced dead at the scene. Three other people suffered minor smoke inhalation.
A cause of the blaze, which was under control in about two hours, is under investigation though authorities do not believe it to be suspicious. An unknown number of people were displaced by the blaze.
At a press conference Wednesday morning Mayor Bill de Blasio called the blaze and loss of life "extraordinarily painful" and "gut wrenching."
"All of us as New Yorkers are feeling this tragedy together," he said.
De Blasio said that preliminary investigation points to the blaze being a horrible accident.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said it seems that the fire likely started on the kitchen stove before extending to the rest of the apartment.
“When the firefighters arrived, fire met them at the door of the apartment. Fire was out the windows on two sides of the building – it’s a large apartment on the fifth floor, a six-room apartment. Firefighters pushed in rapidly but were unable to save the members of this family who were found in two bedrooms," he said.
Nigro explained that the family was unable to get to the front door or the fire escapes in the apartment given that the kitchen is the closest room to the front door and the fire escapes are on the side opposite of the bedrooms.
"It’s a difficult operation for the [fire] department, we’re in the life-saving business and we take this very personally when we were unable to save this family," Nigro said.
The fire took place in a NYCHA building. NYCHA Interim Chair and CEO Kathryn Garcia also addressed the public during the press conference.
"It's been a very tragic day for the NYCHA family," she said.
Garcia explained that the building, constructed in 1910 and renovated in 1994, has 62 units and houses 129 residents. Additionally, she said, records indicate that combination fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors were installed in June 2017 and tested in January 2019.
It's one of the deadliest New York City fires in years. In 2017, one in the Bronx, sparked by a toddler playing with a stove, killed a dozen people. At the time, the FDNY commissioner called the blaze "historic in its magnitude."
Ten years earlier, 10 people died -- nine of them children -- in a four-story house fire in the Bronx. Excluding the Sept. 11 attacks, the 2017 fire was the city's deadliest since 1990, when 87 people were killed at a social club fire in another part of the borough.