New York tragedy: Seven Jewish children die in horrific fire, will be buried in Israel Monday

Seven Jewish children died in a huge blaze in their New York home Friday night. They will be brought to Israel where they will be buried on Monday.

By: AP, Reuters and World Israel News Staff

Brooklyn’s Jewish community has been left deeply shocked and saddened after a huge fire Friday night tore through a home, killing seven children.

The children, from an Orthodox Jewish family, had already gone to sleep and were trapped upstairs in the rear of the house by the time they realized there was a fire. It seems there was no way for them to escape. Authorities believe the tragedy was caused by a malfunctioning hot plate left on for the Sabbath.

The blaze took the lives of three girls and four boys — ages 5 to 16 — and left their mother, 45, and a teenage sister in critical condition. Fire officials said the flames would have prevented the mother, who escaped through a window, from managing to rescue her children.

“This is an unbelievable tragedy,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said after touring the charred residence. “Every New Yorker is feeling this pain right now.”

Fire investigators believe that a hot plate left on a kitchen counter ignited the flames that raced up the stairs, trapping the children in their second-floor rear bedrooms, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

Nigro called it the city’s worst fatal fire in recent memory. “It’s a tragedy for this family, it’s a tragedy for this community, it’s a tragedy for the city,” he said.

Police officials identified the victims as members of the Sassoon family. Three of the children were girls: Eliane, 16, Rivkah, 11 and Sara, 6. Four were boys: David, 12, Yeshua, 10, Moshe, 8 and Yaakob, 5.

Nigro said authorities believe the father was away at a conference at the time of the fire. Neither his name nor those of the survivors were released.

The fire broke out shortly after midnight while the children were asleep in five bedrooms in the rear of the home in Midwood, a tree-lined section in the borough of Brooklyn known for its low crime rate and close-knit Orthodox Jewish population.

A Lost Battle

Karen Rosenblatt, who lives nearby, said she called the emergency dispatcher after being awoken by her husband Andrew when he saw flames and smoke billowing from the home. The husband also said he heard “what seemed like a young girl scream, ‘Help me! Help me!'”

Daniel Nigro

New York’s Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, right, speaks to reporters at the scene of the tragedy. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Firefighters arrived less than four minutes after the emergency call to find the mother, badly burned and distraught, outside and 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.

“Unfortunately, the outcome may have been determined before they arrived,” Nigro said.

More than 100 firefighters turned out to battle the blaze and brought it under control within an hour, New York Fire Department spokesman Michael Parrella said.

After making their way through intense smoke and heat, firefighters found the young victims motionless in three of the four bedrooms in the home, officials said.

“It’s difficult to find one child in a room during a search,” Nigro said. “To find a houseful of seven children that can’t be revived …”

Fire investigators found a smoke detector in the basement of the home. But none were found elsewhere in the house, Nigro said, adding, “To hear a smoke detector two floors below is asking a lot.”

The last residential blaze in New York 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.

The children will be buried in Jerusalem on Monday afternoon.