A fire that started after a hot plate was left unattended tore through a Brooklyn home early Saturday and killed seven children sleeping in their bedrooms, officials said. The children's mother and another sibling survived and were hospitalized in critical condition.
The city's fire commissioner, Daniel Nigro, said it took firefighters three minutes to arrive at the scene after a 911 call came in about 12:30 a.m. By then, the two-story house was enveloped in flames.
A 45-year-old woman identified as the children's mother had escaped along with a 14-year-old daughter, but Nigro said firefighters had to fight their way through smoke and flames to reach the upstairs bedrooms. There, in the back of the home, they found four boys, ages 5, 8, 10, and 12, all dead. Three girls, aged 6, 11, and 16, also died.
Firefighters hurled burning furniture, clothing and other items out the second-story windows onto the snow-covered street as they searched the upper floor for other possible victims and sought to bring the flames and smoke under control.
All of the children were siblings who lived in the home with their mother, Nigro said. Officials identified the dead Saturday afternoon as Eliane Sassoon, 16; Rivkah Sassoon, 11; David Sassoon, 12; Yeshua Sassoon, 10; Moshe Sassoon, 8; Sara Sassoon, 6; and Yaakob Sassoon, 5.
The father was believed to have been away on a business trip.
Neighbors said they heard screams for help after the fire erupted. "I heard a child yelling, 'Mommy! Mommy, help me!'" Andrew Rosenblatt told the Daily News. "I looked out the back window, and I saw flames, smoke .... The smoke and the flames were horrendous."
Another neighbor told the Daily News that the child's mother, Gayle Sassoon, was yelling for someone to rescue her children. "I heard the mother yelling, 'My kids are in there! My kids are in there! Get them out! Get them out!'" the neighbor, Nate Weber, told the newspaper.
Nigro said the mother and the surviving child escaped by leaping out a window from the top floor of the house.
"This is an unbelievable tragedy," Mayor Bill de Blasio said as he visited the scene. Neighbors stood outside the yellow police tape on the street, which is lined with well-tended, single-family homes. A dark SUV, still partially coated in snow from the previous day's storm, sat in the driveway of the family's charred home.
"Seven children lost their lives this morning," Nigro said. "It's a tragedy for this family. It's a tragedy for this community. It's a tragedy for our city."
Nigro said it was the city's worst loss of life from a fire since a blaze killed nine people, including eight children, in the Bronx in 2007.
According to fire officials, there was "no evidence" of smoke detectors on either floor of the house. Nigro said it appeared a hot plate was left on in the kitchen, which sparked the blaze.
The neighborhood is home to many Orthodox Jewish families whose observance of the Sabbath prohibits them from turning on their stoves from Friday evening until Saturday night. Some leave a hot plate on before sundown Friday so they can warm up food until the Sabbath ends.