The apartment fire in Bronx, New York, on Thursday started with a 3-year-old child who was playing with a stove and ended with 12 people dead.
A U.S. Army soldier, we now know, who was home for the holidays was among the deceased because he was trying to save people from the blaze.
Emmanuel Mensah, 28, was found dead in another apartment and died trying to save others, his father told PIX 11. Kwabena Mensah said that this was simply who his son was.
“That’s his nature. That’s how he is,” he said. “He was trying to help people out from the fire, and unfortunately he lost his life. He tried to do his best.”
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The grieving father provided more details to the New York Post.
“I understand when the fire was [going] he was trying to rescue […] he had two or three people out. He just came for the holidays,” he said. “He helped his roommate’s wife and children, they were trying to come out to the stairs and he stopped them.”
“He told them to come out the window […] Then he went in and tried to rescue people out,” he added.
Mensah had just finished basic training in Georgia.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro has called the fire “historic in its magnitude” because of the number of lives lost.
“Our hearts go out to every person who lost a loved one here and everyone who is fighting for their lives,” Nigro said.
The blaze broke out on the first floor of a five-story building just before 7 p.m. on Thursday and quickly ripped through the roughly century-old structure, which stands in a row of similar apartment buildings a block from the grounds of the Bronx Zoo.
Tenants of the building, a mix of native New Yorkers and Latino and African immigrants, scrambled down fire escapes. But the flames moved so fast, spreading through every floor of the building within minutes, that many never made it out of their apartments.
About 170 firefighters worked in the bone-chilling cold, just 15 degrees, to rescue about a dozen people from the building. Water sprayed from hoses froze on the street.
PIX 11 also reported that fire officials said the fire spread so quickly because the door to the apartment where it started was left open.
“Close the door, close the door, close the door,” Commissioner Nigro said urged residents in the event that another fire like this happens.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.