A New York City community is reeling after a fast-moving apartment fire left a family of six dead, including four young children.
Andrea Pollidore, 45, died alongside her 33-year-old stepson and four of her children as flames ripped through their fifth-floor Harlem apartment in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The youngest victim was Pollidore’s 4-year-old son, Elijah.
“He was smart, a quick learner,” the little boy’s father, Jean Belot, told the New York Daily News after learning of the tragedy. “I’m not in a good state of mind.”
Elijah’s 11-year-old sister, 8-year-old brother and 6-year-old sister were also killed in the blaze, AM New York reported. Their names have not yet been released.
Authorities believe the fire was accidental and that it started on the stove after someone forgot to turn off a burner. FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said more than 100 firefighters arrived to the Frederick E. Samuel Houses on W. 142nd Street minutes after receiving the call around 1:40 a.m. The building was already engulfed in flames.
“Firefighters pushed in rapidly, but were unable to save the members of this family, who were found in two bedrooms,” Nigro said.
The fire quickly spread from the stovetop and prevented the family from getting to the door and a window on the opposite end of the apartment, essentially trapping them inside.
“We were met at the door of that apartment with fire,” Nigro added. “As aggressive as the members could be, they were not able to reach those occupants,” Nigro said. “Every bit of that apartment had fire damage.”
The fire also damaged the unit upstairs, but no one was injured.
Pollidore’s eldest daughter, Raven Reyes, who wasn’t home at the time of the fire, said the family is devastated by what happened.
“From what I know, all my little brothers and sisters, my mom, and even my step brother passed away,” Reyes, 27, told the New York Daily News. “They were all good people. My little brothers and sisters. They just were perfect. Like, they were amazing.”
Reyes described the loss of her step-brother, whom she didn’t meet until she was 16 years old.
“He’s been in my life ever since — even though my mom and his dad got separated,” she added. “He’s always been around. I wish this didn’t happen. It’s just unbelievable.”
Reyes told the newspaper that her mother survived a Brooklyn apartment fire in 2013 that left her with first-degree burns, memory loss and put her in a coma.
Mayor Bill de Blasio was emotional upon learning of Wednesday’s tragic fire and called the loss of life “gut-wrenching.”
“As a father, thinking that yesterday evening four children were going to bed and they’re gone now is very very painful,” de Blasio said at a press conference.
Officials with the New York City Housing Authority said smoke alarms were installed in the building in 2017. However, residents who escaped the early morning blaze said they don’t remember hearing any alarms.
“The alarm for the building never went off so no one knew there was a fire,” a resident who wanted only to be identified as Jess said. “Thank god everybody knows everyone in this building.”
A spokeswoman for the NYCHA said smoke alarms for other units in the building were tested Wednesday morning and found to be working properly.
Neighbors and friends of the family could be seen consoling each other outside the burned-out building later that day.
Pamela Johnson, 54, who’s lived in the building for over 20 years and was alerted to the fire when a neighbor knocked on her door, described Pollidore’s children as “very good kids, very happy kids, very rambunctious.”
“They liked to play. They were always out and about,” she told AM New York.
Eric Allen, another resident of the building, said he remembered seeing the family of six around the complex and that Pollidore’s kids often interacted with his kids.
“You would see the family come and go, and you’re not gonna see them anymore,” Allen lamented. “It’s such a horrific event, you can’t imagine anything like that.”
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