NEW YORK – A traditional Haitian holiday soup left unattended on a stove likely sparked a deadly fire that killed a couple and their relative, fire officials said Thursday.
Louise Jean-Charles, 59, her husband, Napoleon Michel, 69, and 37-year-old Nadia Donnay were unconscious inside the apartment when firefighters arrived minutes before midnight. They were pronounced dead at hospitals.
Jean-Charles' son, Sergeory Jean-Charles, 36, told the Daily News of New York that the dish was called Soup Joumou, a spicy pumpkin soup they make every year. It's served on Jan. 1 — the anniversary of Haiti's liberation from France.
"It's a New Year's tradition," the distraught son told the newspaper.
The fire broke out at 11:45 p.m. on the ninth floor of the 18-story, 220-apartment building. The blaze spread from the stove to the living room and back bedrooms, where two of the victims were discovered. Fire authorities said 105 firefighters from 25 units responded to the scene. Five firefighters were treated for minor injuries at area hospitals.
Fire Department of New York Chief of Department James Leonard said there were apparently no smoke detectors at the apartment in the LeFrak City complex in Queens.
"It's a terrible family tragedy," he said, according to the newspaper. "These people were preparing to have a family celebration today."
The official cause of the blaze remained under investigation. A statement from LeFrak City said the building had no fire violations and the apartment had smoke detectors.
"A smoke detector rider attesting to the presence of this life safety equipment was signed and initialed by the tenant in 2012," the statement said, according to the Daily News.
Neighbor Linda Peralta, 27, said the tragic fire could have been worse.
"Thank God it did happen on New Year's Eve," she told the newspaper. "If it was just a regular Wednesday, then everybody would have been asleep, and the fire could have spread to the apartments next door."