NEW YORK • The three-year-old boy in the kitchen screamed. His mother ran in from the bathroom. He had been playing with the knobs of the stove again.
With flames jumping through the kitchen, she scooped up the boy and a two-year-old child and ran into the cold, leaving her first-floor apartment door ajar behind her.
The fire flashed out into the hallway of the five-storey building in the Bronx on Thursday night. The stairwell became in effect a chimney. The fire climbed up, up, up, seeking air.
Confronted with a hallway inferno, residents upstairs retreated and threw open their windows, giving the fire more oxygen, before they crowded onto fire escapes, screaming in several languages.
Others, along the side and back of the building, where the fire began, could not even get to the fire escape.
When all the dead were counted, there were 12, making the fire in the Belmont neighbourhood New York City's deadliest in 27 years. Four other people were critically injured, "fighting for their lives right now", Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday.
The fire broke out on the coldest night of the year, and the first firefighters to the scene could not get water from the hydrant in front of the burning building. It was frozen.
Within moments the firefighters connected to a working hydrant down the block, but the building was already a tenement of death.
Soot, which is usually found on the ceiling in a fire, appeared on the floor and at ankle level on the walls, a sign of how hot the fire was and how quickly it had spread.
Firefighters raced through the building on stairwells coated with ice, carrying people downstairs, slipping and sliding.
The disaster was fed not by structural defects or firefighting mishaps, officials said, but by an unholy mix of circumstance.
"It seems like a horrible, tragic accident," Mr de Blasio said.