Mamadou Wague: Man leaving door open after saving family might have helped spread Bronx fire
Authorities believe an immigrant father who dodged flames to save his eight children from their blazing Bronx apartment may have helped spread the fire across the block before it claimed the lives of eight children and nine adults.
A self-closing door in the Twin Parks North West complex may have malfunctioned and allowed the smoke to spread through the building, experts said, attributing the smoke to the fatalities. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told a press conference Monday, January 10, that the fire — which engulfed the duplex apartment at 333 East 181st Street, at 11 am on Sunday — was "contained to the hallway just outside this two-story apartment, but the smoke traveled throughout the building and the smoke is what caused the deaths and the serious injuries."
Who is Mamadou Wague?
Mamadou Wague, a west African immigrant who lived in Unit 3N with his wife and children, recalled to the New York Times how he woke up to his children screaming "fire" and found his eight-year-old daughter, Nafisha, screaming and trapped on a burning mattress in her bedroom. "I just grab her and run," Wague told the newspaper. "I didn’t think about anything except getting her out."
Wague, 47, pulled his daughter from the flames, sustaining burns to his lips and nose in the process, and escaped the building with his family. The fire was ruled "accidental" by fire marshals, who noted that it was likely caused by a malfunctioning space heater and that a "smoke alarm was present and operational."
A New York City official told the NYT on condition of anonymity that fire marshals suspect the space heater had been running for multiple days uninterrupted. The building had reportedly received at least four complaints last year of units being without heat, per a list of resident maintenance requests shared online. According to the paper, officials believe the fire spread so rapidly because Wague left the door of his blazing apartment open as he fled with his kids.
BREAKING UPDATE: A malfunctioning electric space heater caused the fire that killed 19 people in #NewYorkCity, the fire commissioner says. New York City Mayor #EricAdams addressed the city in a press conference Sunday night. MORE: https://t.co/rOIR3nbNqc pic.twitter.com/GQBhZZEt1j— News 12 New York (@News12) January 9, 2022
Mayor Eric Adams said the door was supposed to close automatically and there may have been a maintenance issue. "The doors in the building did have self-closing mechanisms. We are just looking at that specific door," he told CNN.
On the other hand, Andrew Ansbro, president of the FDNY Uniformed Firefighters Association Union, said the 49-year-old building was not adequate in dealing with a fire. "It was at a building that was built under federal guidelines way back, so it’s not up to New York City fire codes," Ansbro told the New York Daily News.
Wague recounted the harrowing ordeal, saying he was asleep when his kids alerted him about the fire. "One of the kids said, 'Oh, Daddy! Daddy! There’s a fire!' I get up and there’s smoke in the kids’ rooms," he told the Daily News. "It was dark," his 16-year-old son, Hame Wague, told the newspaper. "We were all coughing." The tragedy left Wague grief-stricken despite his entire family surviving the blaze. "I don't want anybody's life — I don't want to hear anybody dead in this fire, that's what I worry about," he told ABC 7 shortly after the episode.
Mayor Adams encouraged residents to close doors in the event of a fire. However, he defended the Wague family and said city officials do not blame them for the catastrophe. "What we don’t want to do is just to add more trauma on a family that was simply trying to escape, a very dangerous and a very frightening experience," Adams said during a press briefing.