WATCH: NYC Mayor Adams holds news briefing on Bronx apartment fire that killed 17

A fire that killed 17 in the Bronx was “a tragedy” that will show the resiliency” of the city, New York City mayor Eric Adams said during a news briefing today.

The event has ended. Watch in the player above.

Seventeen people, including eight children, died Sunday in the blaze in the Bronx. Dozens of people were in the hospital Monday, and as many as 13 were in critical condition. The fire is already the city’s deadliest in three decades. Investigators determined that a malfunctioning electric space heater was to blame. The flames damaged only a small part of the 19-story building, but smoke poured through an open door and turned stairwells into dark, ash-choked horrors.

Adams called it an “unspeakable tragedy” at the news conference near the scene.

“This tragedy is not going to define us,” Adams said. “It is going to show our resiliency.”

Adams lowered the death toll, saying that two fewer people were killed than originally thought. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said patients were taken to seven hospitals and “there was a bit of a double count.”

The dead included children as young as 4 years old, said City Council Member Oswald Feliz.

Investigators determined that a malfunctioning electric space heater, plugged in on a cold morning, started the fire in the 19-story building.

The flames damaged only a small part of the building, but smoke poured through the apartment’s open door and turned stairwells — the only method of escape in a building too tall for fire escapes — into dark, ash-choked death traps.

Adams said the building had self-closing doors and that investigators were looking into whether a door malfunctioned.

“There may have been a maintenance issue with this door. And that is going to be part of the … ongoing investigation,” the mayor told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Some people could not escape because of the smoke, Nigro said. Others became incapacitated as they tried to get out. Firefighters found victims on every floor, many in cardiac and respiratory arrest, Nigro said.

Limp children were given oxygen after they were carried out. Some who fled had soot-covered faces.

Firefighters continued making rescues even after their air supplies ran out, Adams said.

“Their oxygen tanks were empty, and they still pushed through the smoke,” he said.

An investigation was underway to determine how the fire spread and whether anything could have been done to prevent or contain the blaze, Nigro said.

Large, new apartment buildings are required to have sprinkler systems and interior doors that swing shut automatically to contain smoke and deprive fires of oxygen, but those rules do not apply to thousands of the city’s older buildings.

The building was equipped with smoke alarms, but several residents said they initially ignored them because alarms were so common in the 120-unit building.

The fire was New York City’s deadliest since 1990, when 87 people died in an arson at the Happy Land social club, also in the Bronx. The borough was also the scene of a deadly apartment building fire in 2017 that killed 13 people and a 2007 fire, also started by a space heater, that killed nine.

Sunday’s fire happened just days after 12 people, including eight children, were killed in a house fire in Philadelphia.

Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak and Jennifer Peltz in New York and Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon, contributed to this report.