A sheet used as a makeshift rope to escape the fire. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado / Epicenter NYC

What caused it?
By now, you’ve probably heard about the devastating apartment fire in the Fordham section of the Bronx. On Sunday morning, the Twin Parks North West apartment complex was engulfed in a five-alarm-fire — the city’s deadliest in decades. 

Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado / Epicenter NYC

The fire was sparked by an electric space heater, according to official reports. As tenants of the apartment fled, the door behind them remained open, allowing smoke to spread rapidly throughout the building, accounting for the high number of fatalities.

Who was affected?
So far, 17 people have been pronounced dead — eight children and nine adults. Fifteen people are in critical condition. The building was home to a large immigrant community, mainly from the West African country, Gambia. 

Donated items at Monroe College. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado / Epicenter NYC

Victims were directed to Monroe College to pick up donated items such as blankets, coats, toiletries and food. That is where Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado met April Stevens, who came to the college with her mother in hopes of locating her missing sister, Dorel Anderson, and Dorel’s boyfriend, Ramel Thompson. The two lived on the 13th floor of the apartment complex and haven’t been heard from.

Building residents Ramel Thompson and Dorel Anderson, both missing since the fire. Photo courtesy of Dorel Anderson’s sister April Stevens.

“We need information on our loved one because they don’t have any information,” Stevens said. “We called 311, made a missing person report, and we went to the location of the fire. They don’t have any information, they don’t have any information here, so we are just lost. We don’t know what to do.”

What worries Stevens and her mother the most is that Anderson has cerebral palsy and asthma, and uses a wheelchair to get around. 

Ten-year-old Oubaidatou Balima lived on the ninth floor of the building for eight years. On Sunday morning, her family was sleeping when her sister frantically woke them.

Building resident Oubaidatou Balima. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado / Epicenter NYC

“My sister was just tapping me. She was like, ‘Oh, there’s a fire. We need to get out.’ We were rushing to put on our clothes and take phones and stuff, and then we just left,” Balima said. 

On their way out, the family encountered suffocating smoke from the fire in a stairwell. They took refuge in a neighbor’s sixth-floor apartment until the fire department rescued them. 

“I was really scared because at the moment, I thought I wouldn’t survive,” Balima said. “The smell was coming inside the house — it was like smoke everywhere.”

Her family escaped unharmed; they are staying at a relative’s house in the Bronx until they find shelter. 

Alan Samba. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado / Epicenter NYC

What are neighbors saying?

This fire has shocked the entire city. Donations have piled up at Monroe College, from both organizations and countless individuals wanting to help. 

Alan Samba, 46, who lives in the Highbridge section of the Bronx, brought blankets and jackets from his home after hearing the news on Sunday evening.

“It was very sad, nine kids — that broke my heart. Nine kids died yesterday so I just prayed for them.” (Note: On Sunday it was originally reported nine kids had died. That number has since been adjusted to eight.) 

Jaime Rodriguez, also a resident of the Bronx, was devastated to hear what had happened. He lives only a few blocks away and passes by the building every day. 

“I just feel sadness and it is a shame that this happened,” he said. “It’s sad because they don’t want to give heat to people, and that’s when all the problems start, people buy heaters, they get damaged and they cause a fire.”

Supplies collected by the Gambian Youth Organization. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado / Epicenter NYC

How you can help

The Gambian Youth Organization (GYO) is a local nonprofit that immediately started a GoFundMe campaign to support victims of the fire  since some of their members had been affected by the fire. 

Salim Drammeh, 26, president of the GYO says donations are crucial not just for these coming weeks. 

“Families will be impacted not only for this month, it will be years down the line,” said Drammeh.

What do they need? They “need everything because they lost everything,” he said. “If we could get unused clothes, I know that sometimes it’s unlikely, but if we can get some unused clothes — anything that people can donate.”

The organization is also collecting clothing and food, which you can drop off at its community center located at 214 East 181st St. in the Bronx. You can also donate to its GoFundMe campaign

ICNA Relief delivering supplies. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado / Epicenter NYC

Another organization helping families is ICNA Relief, a nonprofit faith-based organization that helps victims of disaster. 

“We are with them, they are our family, we are standing with them day and night, whatever they need. We will try to get them food and shelter,” said Arshad Jamal, director of ICNA Relief New York.

ICNA Relief requests that you donate brand new items, you can bring clothing or food donations to their location at 87-91 144th St. in Jamaica, Queens, or donate money through its website.

You can also help victims of the fire by donating to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. Your monetary donation will help with the distribution of emergency relief supplies for the families. 

The Bronx Democratic Party is collecting donations and relief supplies. Items such as new clothes, coats, underwear, socks, bottled water, unused sheets, bedding and pillows, diapers, baby items, hygiene items, toiletries and packaged shelf-stable food items are desperately needed. You can drop donations off at various locations until Friday, Jan. 14. For more information, contact info@bronxdems.org.

If you are a lawyer, law student, paralegal or notary who can help provide pro-bono services for those affected by the fire, sign up here.

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