By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Seven children from an Orthodox Jewish family died early on Saturday when flames ripped through their Brooklyn home in one of New York City’s deadliest fires in years, officials said.
Their 45-year-old mother and a teenage sister survived after jumping from an upper floor. The two were taken to a local hospital and were in critical condition, New York Fire Department spokesman Michael Parrella said.
The blaze erupted in the single-family dwelling around 12:30 a.m. It apparently was started accidentally by a hot plate, used by many Orthodox families to warm food on the Sabbath, said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
It was the highest death toll in a fire in the city in seven years, Nigro said.
“This is an unbelievable tragedy,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters after seeing the devastation at the site of the blaze. “Every New Yorker is feeling this pain right now.”
De Blasio described the interior of the house, located in Brooklyn’s middle-class Midwood neighborhood, as completely charred.
“You can literally see what was a home for a large and strong family and now it is wiped out, every room empty and burned,” he said.
De Blasio asked for the surrounding community to support the family’s grieving father, who was apparently away for a conference overnight.
Responding to reports of flames inside the home, firefighters forced their way in and extinguished the fire, which had started in the kitchen, Nigro said. They then found the children, aged 5 to 16, in their bedrooms near the back of the home, he said, after the mother and another daughter jumped.
“I heard the mother yelling, ‘My kids are in there! My kids are in there! Get them out! Get them out!'” neighbor Nate Weber told the New York Daily News. “The mother was outside. She was burned.”
Police have identified the children who died as Yaakob Sassoon, 5, Sara, 6, Moshe, 8, Yeshua, 10, Rivkah, 11, David, 12, and Eliane, 16. Authorities initially said the oldest child was 15 years old.
More than 100 firefighters turned out to battle the blaze and brought it under control within an hour, Parrella said.
Midwood has a large population of Orthodox Jewish residents. Nigro said the hot plate was likely left switched on because of religious restrictions on lighting fires during the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Stephen Powell, Frances Kerry and David Gregorio)