Authorities believe a malfunctioning hotplate left on to keep food warm over the Jewish Sabbath sparked the fire that killed seven children in a Brooklyn house early Saturday morning.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the victims were 5 to 15. Their mother and a 14-year-old sibling survived after jumping from the second floor. They were in critical condition.
“This is the largest tragedy by fire that this city has had in seven years,” Nigro said. “It’s a tragedy for this family, it’s a tragedy for this community, it’s a tragedy for the city.”
Firefighters received a call at 12:23 a.m. about the fire at a private two-story brick home in Midwood, Brooklyn, a tight-knit predominately Orthodox Jewish enclave with a low crime rate.
A neighbor told the New York Post a child's cries of "Mommy, Mommy, help me!" could be heard outside the blazing home.
More than 100 firefighters responded to the blaze and brought the fire under control in about an hour.
The Post reported that the hot plate might have been turned on before sundown Friday and left on to keep food warm, authorities said. The paper said observant Jews avoid turning on ovens or electrical appliances once Sabbath begins.
Nigro said the only smoke detector investigators could find in the house was in the basement.
“There was no evidence of smoke detectors on either the first or the second floor that may have alerted this family to the fire,” the commissioner said.
The Post said the mother Gayle Sassoon and the 14-year-old suffered burns and smoke inhalation. The father was at a conference and authorities were having trouble locating him. Neighbors said recently the family moved back to New York from Israel.
"Two of the children weren’t breathing when they brought them out. The firefighters were running with them down the street on stretchers,” a volunteer at the scene told the Post
“The mother was covered in soot. It’s horrible inside.”
WABC-TV said an 8 year-old girl was pronounced dead at the scene. Boys, 5, 6, 7 and 11 and girls, 12 and 15, were taken to hospitals where they were pronounced dead.
The Post reported that firefighters worked to put out the fire as paramedics struggled to help victims.
Neighbor Nate Weber told the paper that he saw children being wheeled away on stretchers.
"I turned away. I didn't even want to look," he said.
Weber said he heard the children's mother yelling for help.
"I heard a woman yelling: `My kids are in there. Get them out. Get them out,"' he told the Post.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.