NEW YORK – The tightknit Orthodox Jewish New York City community where seven siblings perished in a deadly Sabbath fire was still reeling Sunday as funeral services for the children were being prepared.
"I call this not a tragedy but an absolute disaster," said state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn were the fire broke out early Saturday. The blaze killed three girls and four boys ages 5 to 16, leaving their mother and another child critically injured.
"Everyone's in utter shock," Hikind said.
Funeral plans were tentatively set for late Sunday afternoon.
Investigators believe a hot plate left on a kitchen counter set off the blaze that sent flames up the stairs, trapping the children in their second-floor bedrooms as they slept. Many religious Jews who observe the Sabbath refrain from working, in all forms, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday — including using electricity.
Authorities identified the Sasoon family victims as girls Eliane, 16, Rivkah, 11 and Sara, 6 and boys David, 12, Yeshua, 10, Moshe, 8 and Yaakob, 5.
Authorities say their father was at a nearby conference at the time of the fire. Neither his name nor those of the survivors were released.
"They were beautiful little children," said a tearful neighbor Rose Insel, remembering how she rewarded the kids with lollipops after voluntarily shoveling her walk. "It's unbelievable. It doesn't seem possible."
Another neighbor, Agit Abeckaser, called them an "amazing family."
"It's very hard," she said as her husband prayed for the Sasoons at a nearby synagogue Saturday night.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro called it the city's worst fatal fire in recent memory and Mayor Bill de Blasio, after touring the charred home, called the deadly blaze a tragedy for the family, the community and for the city.
A neighbor, Karen Rosenblatt, said she called 911 after seeing flames and smoke bellowing from the home. Her husband said he heard "what seemed like a young girl scream, 'Help me! Help me!'" she said.
Firefighters arrived less than four minutes after the 911 call and discovered the badly burned and distraught mother pleading for help. When they broke in the door, firefighters encountered a hopeless situation — a raging fire that had already spread through the kitchen, dining room, common hall, stairway leading upstairs and the rear bedrooms.
The last residential blaze with a similar death toll happened in 2007, when eight children and an adult were killed in a fire in a 100-year-old building in the Bronx where several African immigrant families lived. Fire officials said an overheated space heater cord sparked that blaze.