HARLEM — Firefighters on Friday warned people to make sure their front doors automatically close, in case of fire, and that they know to call 911, rather than a relative or friend, if a fire breaks out in their home.
An appeal for that, as well as for people to not have excessive clutter in their homes, and to have working smoke detectors, were the direct result of the tragedy that happened on the top floors of 1833 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard Friday morning.
A mother who lived on the fourth floor and an 81 year-old man who lived on the fifth floor right above her died of apparent smoke inhalation.
Papa Kante is the husband of Adianatou Korouma, 37, the woman who died.
“My wife, she’s gone,” he said. “My two children, they’re in the hospital.”
He spent the day shuttling between the hospital and his apartment, near the corner of 112th Street, to salvage what was left of the family’s home and try to make sense of the tragedy.
His wife, who went by the nickname Néné, was found dead near the door of the apartment when firefighters searched the building, just before 1:40 a.m.
“The fire started on the third floor, and up to I’m on the 4th floor,” Kante said.
Firefighters confirmed his account, that a fire on the third floor rose up, leaving the apartments on the two floors above it filling with toxic smoke.
When firefighters arrived, some of them worked on putting out the flames on the third floor, while others climbed above it. There, on the fourth floor, was a devastating scene, according to FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro. He held a news conference in front of the building on Friday afternoon.
“[Firefighters] were able to find a 4-year-old child, and a 20-day-old baby and bring them out safely,” he said. “The four year-old was brought out in cardiac arrest, and through the work of our EMS crews was brought back to life.”
Papa Kante said that his daughter’s name is Aiche. His infant son is named Souleymame. Both are in the hospital.
Nigro said that the tragedy might have been prevented in multiple ways.
“The occupant called a family member, who then called us,” he said about the woman who ended up losing her life. That second-party call “resulted in a delayed notification,” the commissioner said.
Residents should have first called 911, said Nigro.
Also, in the apartment where the fire broke out, there was heavy clutter, he said. It provided fuel for the fire, as well as something else that added to the tragedy.
“When the occupant exited the apartment,” he said about the woman who lived in the third floor unit where the fire broke out, “the clutter prevented the door from closing behind them.”
That provided air venting that intensifies fire, Nigro pointed out. Also, he said, the apartments where people perished didn’t have working smoke detectors.
Now, Kante is spending the weekend at the hospital to support the recovery of his daughter and his baby son, even as he prepares to bury his wife.
“You, know, it’s sad,” he said.