Horrific fire at Bronx Mitchell-Lama shocks city

At least 17 die as smoke races up building in “unprecedented” fashion

333 East 181st Street (Getty)
333 East 181st Street (Getty)

UPDATED, Jan. 10, 6 p.m. — A blaze that began in a second-floor duplex in the Bronx Sunday morning sent smoke racing up the 19-story building, killing 17 people including eight children. It was the city’s worst fire tragedy in decades.

A malfunctioning space heater causes the fire, Mayor Eric Adams said Sunday evening. The fire reportedly began in the bedroom of a duplex apartment on the building’s second and third floors.

When fleeing residents left the door open, the smoke and fire spread throughout the building. As noted by The City, that detail is in conflict with a city law passed after a previous Bronx fire that requires all doors leading to corridors and stairwells to be self-closing as of mid-2021.

Firefighters arrived within three minutes of the first call, around 11 a.m., and found victims on every floor of the 120-unit building, 333 181st Street.

“The smoke conditions in this building were unprecedented,” said Daniel Nigro, the fire commissioner, according to the New York Times. He noted that the door of the apartment where the conflagration began was left open, allowing smoke to escape, the Times reported. Sixty-three people were injured, at least 13 of them critically.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

Read more

Mayor Eric Adams, on the scene in the West Bronx, said, “This is going to be one of the worst fires that we have witnessed during modern times.”

About 200 firefighters responded to the property, where a neighbor said flames were “pouring out the windows,” the Washington Post reported. The loss of life appears to be greater than at any New York fire since the Happy Land social club burned in the Bronx in 1990, killing 87. That blaze was set at the illegal club’s only open exit by a man who had argued with his girlfriend, a ticket taker, and been kicked out by a bouncer.

The building, which does not have fire escapes, was built in 1972 and was last sold two years ago by Cammeby’s International Group as part of a portfolio of eight Mitchell-Lama buildings. The buyers — LIHC Investment Group, Belveron Partners and Camber Property Group — paid $170 million for the properties. Mitchell-Lama is a state affordable-housing program.

This article has been revised to reflect an updated fatality count provided by city officials.