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Published: Saturday, 10/26/2013

Fatal Bronx blaze caused by candles

BY MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ AND ALEX VADUKUL
NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK — A fire in the Bronx on Friday evening that killed three children was caused by candles that were apparently being used for light after power to the apartment was cut off because of unpaid bills, the authorities said today.

Three brothers, Elijah Artis, 5, Jeremiah Artis, 2, and Michael Turner, 4 months, were killed in the blaze, according to the police. Two other siblings, ages 4 and 4 months, and their mother, 25, were treated for smoke inhalation, the police added.

The two surviving children, both girls, were listed in stable condition today at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center, Nydia Negron, a hospital spokeswoman, said. The children’s mother, who was not immediately identified, was treated and released.

Six other people were injured but did not seek treatment at the hospital, the Fire Department said.

The fire erupted inside the family’s apartment just before 8 p.m. Friday. A Fire Department spokesman said candles placed in the kitchen caused the blaze, but he was unable to provide more specific information.

Allan Drury, a spokesman for Consolidated Edison, said power to the apartment had been cut off Thursday over delinquent payments. Neighbors said the family had been using candles for light.

Drury added that Con Edison typically tries to avoid turning off power, instead putting customers on payment plans. This particular family, it seemed, simply fell too far behind.

“There was significant amount of arrears on the account — well into the thousands of dollars,” Drury said.

At the apartment building today, workers boarded up windows and vacuumed shattered glass. The street below was blocked with yellow police tape. A Red Cross volunteer at the scene said 19 residents had been moved to emergency housing.

Outside the six-story building, neighbors had erected a small memorial with a brown teddy bear and candles.

Valerie Frazier, 47, a resident of the building who returned with her husband to gather some belongings today, said the conditions inside were “gruesome.”

“It just looked like a horror movie,” she said.

Frazier and others said the mother doted on her children.

“She made sure they laughed, they played,” Frazier said. “She did everything a mother should do. But it must have got overwhelming.” A man who neighbors said was the father of the children arrived Friday evening while rescue operations were underway. After learning that his family was inside, he tried to run into the building but was blocked by police officers, Frazier said.

The man’s brother, Omar Artis, identified him as Tyrone Artis, 40, and said he was the father of all five children in the home. Omar Artis said his brother and the children’s mother also had a sixth child, who was staying with the woman’s mother at the time of the fire. Omar Artis said he was unsure of the mother’s name. She and Tyrone Artis had been living together for years, but never married, he said.

Neighbors said they were alerted to the blaze by the mother’s screams as she stood on the fire escape cradling one of the children. Two men pulled down the fire-escape ladder, neighbors said, and helped the woman and child down. Another person helped rescue a second child, but the flames and smoke grew too intense for anyone to attempt to save the remaining children, witnesses said.

Charlotte Amakye, 38, who lives across the street from the building, rushed outside and helped one of the girls who she said was “full of smoke.”

Amakye brought the girl, who was covered in soot, to a bodega on the ground floor and wiped her face with a paper towel. “Then she coughed and I knew she was alive,” she said.

Frazier said she wished she had known about the family’s troubles. “Maybe if they would have asked, we could have helped,” she said.



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