Heartbreak From Fatal Bronx Fire


Friday, March 9th 2007, 6:55 am
By: News On 6


NEW YORK (AP) _ The fire started late at night and climbed quickly through the house. By the time Fatoumata Soumare called her husband from inside, she seemed to know she was doomed.

``I might die with my kids,'' she told him.

In fact, she died with eight children, three of hers and five of her relatives', in New York City's worst fire in 27 years. The blaze broke hearts from the South Bronx to West Africa, as all the parents had immigrated from Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world.

``I don't know what I'm going to do,'' said Soumare's husband, Mamadou Soumare, casting tearful eyes at the burned-out building after his wife, son and twins died in the blaze. ``I love her. I love my wife.''

Authorities said 22 people, including 17 children, lived in the building's two apartments a few blocks north of Yankee Stadium. The dead, including babies in their cribs, were found throughout the house, a fire official said.

``I can't recollect a fire where we lost eight children,'' said Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano, who has 37 years in the department.

The fire was the city's deadliest since the 1990 Happy Land social club blaze in the Bronx. That blaze killed 87 people.

Cassano said an overloaded space heater sparked the fire. Batteries were missing from the two smoke alarms, the Fire Department said.

Part of the problem, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was that residents apparently tried to extinguish the fire themselves. He said firefighters were at the home in a little more than three minutes once they were notified.

The home was not equipped with a fire escape, and was not required to have one under city building codes, according to the Buildings Department.

Soumare was driving his livery cab through Harlem when he received the frantic phone call. ``She said, `We have a fire,''' Soumare recalled. ``She was screaming.'' A cousin, Bouna Fade, said the husband told him she said, ``I might die with my kids.''

Soumare could not prevent it. He made a 911 call, but by the time he got home, the house was a fiery tomb. Two neighbors, Edward Soto and David Todd, had rescued a couple of children tossed from a window, but for others it was too late. Neighbor Charles O'Neal, 21, said he saw firefighters pass along babies still clad in their pajamas and lay two dead children on sheets of white plastic.

Moussa Magassa, the father of the other five children killed, booked a speedy return to New York after learning the horrible news while on a business trip in Mali. He is an official of the New York chapter of the international High Council for Malians Living Abroad, and ``the best in our community,'' said Imam Mahamadou Soukouna, a Muslim cleric and family friend. ``It's very, very, very sad what has happened to us today.''

Family members identified the dead as Fatoumata Soumare, 42, her son Dgibril and 7-month-old twins Sisi and Harouma. A fourth child, 7-year-old Hasimy, escaped the carnage, her father said. The Magassa family dead included four brothers _ Bandiougou, 11, Mahamadou, 8, Abudubucary, 5, and Bilaly, 1, and their 3-year-old sister Diaba. Their mother and six siblings survived.

At least three more children were among the 19 people injured. A 7-year-old girl remained in critical condition at Jacobi Medical Center. A pair of 6-year-olds were upgraded from critical to good condition and transferred to Lincoln Hospital.

Fellow Muslims joined grieving relatives at the Islamic Cultural Center on Thursday to grieve.

``We are standing with them and supporting them, and we are thanking God,'' said Dukary Camara, a spokesman for the center. ``God is the one who gives us the children and the family, and he is the one who takes them.''

``These people are good Muslims,'' he added, ``and they understand that what is destiny for them, there's nothing that can prevent that from happening.''

After the service, Imam Konate Souleimane said mosques throughout the metropolitan area would accept donations for the families during Friday services. He said tentative plans were for Fatoumata Soumare and her children to be flown back to Mali for burial, while the other children would be buried in the New York area.

``God is great and he is merciful,'' the cleric said. ``He does everything for a reason.''