Six family members, including four children, were killed early Wednesday when a fire that apparently started on a stove ravaged a Harlem apartment, authorities said. Firefighters, who were called at about 1:40am, pushed quickly and aggressively into the flames and thick smoke and found a man and a woman, as well as two girls and two boys ages 3 to 11, in bedrooms of the fifth-floor apartment, according to Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. They were pronounced dead by emergency medical technicians, the AP reports. "It's horrible to look at, and as a father just thinking ... that yesterday evening four children went to bed and they're gone now is very, very painful," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. The head of the New York City Housing Authority, Kathryn Garcia, said a battery-operated smoke detector in the apartment had been tested in January.
Television reports showed neighbors standing in a circle and praying outside the Frederick E. Samuel Houses. "As the fire was burning I was hearing one of the little girls screaming," fourth-floor resident Eric Allen told the New York Post. "They were beautiful kids." Abdul Salaam, 25, told the Post that he saw the flames from the street and called 911. "I heard glass breaking, kids yelling," said Salaam. "They were clearly in fear for their lives." Police sources tell the Post that a mother and her four children, as well as her adult stepson, were the victims. The sources say investigators think the mother may have disconnected the smoke detector at some point after the January test, and that they believe she may have fallen asleep while cooking. Neighbors reportedly told authorities she frequently disabled the smoke detector while cooking, and scorched food was reportedly found on the stove. (A mother lost all seven of her children in a house fire.)