Survivors of city’s deadliest blaze in 25 years try to move on from fire that burned through their lives 1 year ago

BELMONT, the Bronx — Nearly a year ago, a pregnant woman was the last woman to escape a fire alive; it was the deadliest blaze in New York City in more than 25 years.

Kadian Blake has since given birth to a baby girl. Five members of her family died in the Dec. 28, 2017 fire on Prospect Avenue. Thirteen people in total were killed by the fire.

"I don't think it gets easier," Blake said about the loss. "With time, the only thing that I've experienced is that I've accepted that they are dead, but the pain is just as it was the moment that I heard that they didn't make it."

Relatives Holt Francis, Karen Stewart-Francis and their daughters, 2-year-old Kylie and 7-year-old Kelesh, were killed. Their 19-year-old cousin, Shawntay Young, was also killed by the blaze.

"A piece of them will live on," Blake said.

Blake's mother, Andrene Paul, said the cause of the fire was a massive source of frustration. An unattended 3-year-old boy played with the family stove. He has a history of playing with oven burners. The boy's mother ran from the apartment with him and another toddler, but left the door open, causing flames to spread through the building.

“It’s difficult to wrap your head around that carelessness," Paul said at the time. "We lost so many people from our family in one shot. One day, one time.”

It's been a struggle since then.

"They're like, at the forefront of your mind almost every day," she said about the relatives she'd lost. "We're trying to hold on as best as we can."

The experience shaped father of four Nana Yartel. At first, escaping with their lives was all that mattered. But now he's passionate about fire safety. He believes smarter decisions that winter night could have not only saved lives, but also helped other families — including his own — avoid months of instability. They bounced between Red Cross accommodations, a hotel and a city shelter before they found a new apartment.

Bronx City Councilmember Ritchie Torres is the sponsor of a  new bill that would force the city to prioritize finding housing for residents displaced by fire.

"If you're displace by a fire, the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development would have to immediately identity vacant apartments within your local community and then connect you and other displaced families to those apartments," he said. "It's common sense legislation. We throw them into a hotel system and then we tell them 'you're on your own.' The bureaucracy is too slow. It's broken. We have to fix it."

Deadly blazes can be prevented by closing the door behind you during a fire, putting stove knob covers in homes with young children, and of course – installing smoke detectors, according to FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

"It's a sad time of year up on Prospect Avenue as we remember them," Nigro said. " Fire safety is important 365 days a year, but here in the holiday season, it's most important."

Blake's family is still on the mend emotionally and financially.

“What I’ve learned is that fire safety is something that is paramount," she said. "That we should teach from kids – up. And we would have that – we would not be here, we would not have experienced what we experienced."

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