A house fire in Brooklyn, caused by a hot plate, has killed seven children of a Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish family, all siblings, who were trapped inside the inferno. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the events an “unbelievable tragedy” on Saturday. The mother and one of her children were able to escape the burning Midwood neighborhood home, which was left gutted by the fire. Thick smoke blew over witnesses who could hear the children inside, who have been identified, desperately crying for help.
De Blasio described the inside of the Brooklyn home as “unimaginable,” with every room of what had been the “home for a large and strong family” now destroyed. Each room of the house, said de Blasio, is “empty and burned and charred.”
The seven children trapped inside the home were between the ages of 5 and 16 years old, and have been identified as members of the Sassoon family. They were sisters Eliane, 16; Rivkah, 11 and Sara, 6. Also killed were their brothers David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8 and Yaakob, 5.
All seven died at the hospital. The mother of the children and their teen-aged sister, who managed to escape the blaze by jumping from the second floor, suffered from smoke inhalation and burns and are currently in critical condition at the hospital. Officials reported that the father of the children had been attending a conference out of town when the fire occurred.
Because the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn is home to a large number of Orthodox Jews, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro believes it likely that the hot plate which likely spurred the fire that killed seven children of the family, now identified, had been used to keep food warm during the Jewish Sabbath, known as Shabbat. During a Saturday morning news conference, Nigro explained that the use of the hot plate is a way to keep from “hav[ing] to operate a stove,” as observing Shabbat requires engaging in restful activities which do not require work, allowing those observing the day of rest to reflect spiritually and spend time with family. Shabbat is typically observed from just before sunset on Friday evening until three stars appear in the sky on Saturday night.
According to the FDNY, firefighters were called to the Brooklyn residence at 12:23 a.m. and were on the scene within three-and-a-half minutes. Even with the rapid response, by the time fire trucks arrived, the fire had already moved from the kitchen to the second floor via an open staircase. Although firefighters did everything they could, said Nigro, they were unable to save the lives of the seven children, which “is very difficult for [those] who bravely fought their way in and put this fire out quickly,” especially for firefighters with families of their own.
Nigro added that although a smoke detector had been installed in the basement of the home, there were no detectors on the first or second floor. Because smoke rises, by the time the basement detector sounded, it was probably too late to properly warn the family of the fire. In addition, the bedrooms of the children were located in the rear of the house, and as their mother had been “badly burned,” she would have been unable to reach them in time.
According to the commissioner, the Brooklyn fire which killed seven children, now identified, from an Orthodox Jewish family is the largest to happen in New York in seven years. In March 2007, a Bronx house fire killed a mother and her seven children, with an eighth child dying later at the hospital.
By Jennifer Pfalz