This fire really hit home for me, as a former long time Bronx resident. I was in residence for most of my life, from 1964 to 2011, w only time out for studies at universities. This tragedy occurred on January 9, 2022, in a high rise 19 story building in the Tremont section of the Bronx, a poor area. As of 3 days post incident, there r 17 confirmed dead, and many still at risk of death, in the hospital, critically listed. All of the dead were immigrant sounding names, but that does not matter, as we all band together in commiseration for the losses, of life, health, way of life, the homelessness of so many, w ruined homes, as u will see from attached pictures of this horrendous incident. It was due to a lousy space heater malfunction, which is always a risk, as many many Bronx buildings either lack heat, or do not provide adequate amounts of it, and the law states u must heat to a minimum of 68 degrees Fahrenheit during day hours, 6am-10pm daily, when it’s below 55 degrees outside. And then the source apartment of the fire, on the 3rd floor, a duplex, had a space heater going during the night, too close to a bed, and boom! And then as they left, that family, some of whom survived, the outer apartment door did not close, as it was supposed to, thus putting the landlord and the City of New York on the hook for lack of maintenance, especially regarding non-closing apartment doors. The fire quickly spread up the stairwells, affecting every floor of the building, filled w deadly smoke.
All the dead died from smoke inhalation aged from 2 years to 50 years. Why does this touch me? Well, I have personal experience w fire, and near fire in my past, which was poor also. I was a child of 10 years when a fire started in my own kitchen, as my mom spoke on the phone in another room, and I watched TV, as the glass kettle kept boiling water going long past all evaporation of the water. On the stove also was stored wax coated paper cups, which distributed ash all over our 2 bedroom apartment. And the kettle smashed from the ongoing fire, and the fire was close to the window curtains as well, but by then, we knew what was happening, and put the fire out ourselves, despite the terrible risk. We were actually very lucky, unharmed after this incident. Even tho there was damage…
And then I was an adult, still languishing in that kid’s small bedroom, long since painted dark purple, in the Bronx, the same apartment that had this fire, and I found a problem, in that there were not enough built in electrical outlets in any room of the house, so we ran an extension cord in my bedroom, stupidly under a rug! And the heat of the current going thru that cord was a danger: the 3 outlets opened on the extension cord had in fact melted (!) and was about to start a fire! Under my carpet, which was partly under my bed, in a small room, w only one means of egress, the room door. Which would have all gone up in an inferno, but we caught it just in time, avoiding that fire! Whew!
And as poor Bronx residents, like these victims were also, so many years later, we also owned a space heater, w major warnings about not running it on an extension cord, but we had not enough outlets, and some outlets were in fact substandard, not even the modern kind that takes all plugs. And it was a regular thing to have no heat or hot water, particularly in January and February, the coldest of the year, and I would get sick every winter as a result, in chilling misery. All in substandard housing that cares not for its residents. It was a 6 story tenement, built in 1930 actually, and improvements did not happen while we lived there, not really. Just emergency repairs, when the ceilings fell down, due to persistent leaks. And the cold, the bitter cold of winter, and stress, food desert living too, and illnesses that were even life threatening eventually…this was my reality for far too long.
And so, I feel it, for these victims too, very viscerally. The burns, the smoke inhalation, the homeless, the dead, may they RIP in the Heaven as the Earth and its inhabitants cared not for these immigrants either. But some of us do, in the aftermath: we donate clothes, food, money, services for the displaced. But NYC is inhospitable too, in that there is insufficient affordable housing. And that which there is, usually upkeep is lacking also, so u trade one prison for another. It’s just tragic. We must do better, no matter what money people have. Many of us would not even be here now, were it not for the Grace of God, and His mercy upon us, in the distant past, in a miserable Bronx childhood and adulthood too. Glad I escaped alive, even if I am also damaged somewhat from this past.
It is frankly ridiculous to me the vision of the Bronx that my father and uncle Sidney had, when these things happen…u can often see that which u want to see, not the reality. It’s like melting people much as Salvador Dali did melting clocks in The Persistence of Memory, which is also applicable here.
A waterfall and field is so much better to visualize…and The Persistence of Memory is at my local Museum of Modern Art.