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At least 19 killed in New York City fire

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

At least 19 people have died in a massive fire in New York City. The fire broke out in a residential building in the Bronx and also left dozens of people injured, some critically. Mayor Eric Adams this afternoon said the numbers of dead and injured from this fire were horrific. NPR's Jasmine Garsd is with us now from New York to bring us up to date. Jasmine, thank you so much for joining us.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So can you just first start by telling us what we know about this fire, how it started and how many people are injured as we speak?

GARSD: Sure. The fire started this morning at around 11 a.m. in a residential 19-story building in the Bronx. We know that at least 63 people are injured. At least 32 are in critical condition. And at least 19 people are dead, including nine children. The fire department has said that so far, the injuries they have seen have been due to smoke inhalation. They said the smoke conditions in the building were unprecedented. Now, just to give you a sense of how massive this fire was, it took over 200 firefighters to put out the blaze. At a press conference, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said this is going to be a very painful record for New Yorkers.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ERIC ADAMS: The impact of this fire is going to really bring a level of just pain and despair in our city.

MARTIN: Jasmine, I understand that this is early, but do we have any sense of what caused this fire? - because there has not been a fire of this scale for some time in New York. And frankly, the fires that cause this level of fatalities are usually taking place in, you know, after-hour social clubs, for example, with a record of, you know, enforcement violations. Or it's a result of arson, so - just to be - just to look at the historical record. So does the fire department have any sense of why this happened?

GARSD: No. The fire department has said that it doesn't appear to be a suspicious fire. Marshals are investigating the cause. And also, officials are now checking the building itself to make sure it is structurally sound because, as you said, it was a really big fire. But we do not know what the causes are yet.

MARTIN: And this is the second major fire in the Bronx this weekend, as I understand it. Can you just tell us more about that?

GARSD: That's right. There was a fire yesterday, early in the morning in the Bronx, with a lithium-ion battery, the kind you find in electric bikes or scooters. One of those batteries self-combusted. There were no casualties in that fire, but the fire department has said there's been an increase in lithium battery-related fires in the city. Again, just to be clear, authorities have not commented yet on what caused today's tragedy.

MARTIN: And, Jasmine, just to go back to the comments from the very newly installed mayor of New York, he said that this is going to be a very painful moment in the city. Just from the reporting that you've done so far, I take it that you agree?

GARSD: Absolutely. I mean, we have not seen a fire of this caliber in a very long time. It does bring back memories of the '70s, you know, this whole the-Bronx-is-burning era. I mean, I think this is - especially as the numbers come out, we really don't have a full picture yet. I think in the next couple of hours and days, we're going to get a sense of how bad this was. But it was pretty bad.

MARTIN: And, of course, seeing the pictures of those very young children being brought out of the building by the firefighters, and you can see the pain on their faces, even behind those masks, as you saw them attend to these children. That was NPR's Jasmine Garsd in New York. Jasmine, thank you so much.

GARSD: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.