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NEW YORK: Members of the Muslim-American community in the Bronx area of ​​New York where several Muslim-Americans were killed in an apartment building fire on January 9, pledged their efforts to help residents with support and donations. collected.

At least 17 Muslim Americans of West African descent were killed in the fire. Eight of the victims were under the age of 18. His Islamic funeral service will be held on January 16 at the Islamic Cultural Center in the Bronx.

“Smoke alarms were going off, but nobody really took it seriously because they go off all the time, so nobody knows when it’s a real emergency,” 14-year-old Bintou Kamara told Arab News.

Kamara, who attends Harlem Prep High School, has lived with her family at 333 East 181 Street from an early age.

Front view of 333 East 181 Street in the Bronx, New York. (supplied)

Kamara and her family initially thought the fire was coming from an adjacent apartment building, until they began to cry for help and sirens.

“We heard people shouting for help. We had seen firefighters, so we realized this is our home,” Kamara said.

“We took a scarf and we were waving outside and shouting, ‘Help, help.’ It took them an hour or two to reach us. We were on the 12th floor.”

Fire officials said a faulty electric space heater had started the fire.

“The heat is sometimes on, sometimes off. That’s why everyone in this building has a heater. Everyone has a heater in this building,” Kamara told Arab News.

“People don’t want to freeze. It’s winter. It’s cold. I have a heater in my room. My mom has a heater. Everyone has a heater. If the building was just providing heat, nothing like this would happen – If they were doing what they should have been doing.”

According to New York fire officials, the flames themselves did not spread throughout the building. Instead, thick black smoke engulfed the stairs and seeped into the apartment, blocking the only escape route from the fire and causing several deaths and hospitalizations.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Negro told local media that smoke quickly spread throughout the building due to faulty doors on the front and 15th floor of the building.

The Negro said that the front door of the apartment and a door on the 15th floor should have closed themselves and quelled the spread of smoke, but the doors remained fully open. It was not clear whether the doors failed mechanically or if they were manually disabled.

But malfunctions in the apartment building are not uncommon, residents told Arab News. Bintou’s older sister, Fatumatta Kamara, said the issues she faced were a leaky sink, peeling paint and pests.

Kamara Family Apartment on the 12th floor of 333 East 181 Street in the Bronx, New York. Signs of struggle are visible during the fire. (supplied)

“Usually when you tell the landlord something, it either doesn’t fix it properly or it wears out quickly or they don’t come around for a while so you don’t have to go back to times for the same complaint on some of the home issues. – has to be registered,” said Fattoumatta, a 19-year-old student at Fordham University. Eventually, after a long wait, the family will do the repairs themselves, she said.

About a week after the fire, many families are still living in a hotel or with other family members, with little communication from the building’s landlord. Lawyers for the victims’ families filed a class action lawsuit seeking $1 billion in compensation from building owners, city and state officials.

Despite many problems in the apartment where the fire broke out, Bintou and Fattoumatta express love for the community they have built over the years.

The 120-unit building is mainly occupied by low-income communities of various backgrounds, some of whom are Muslim immigrants of West African descent. The building sits within a 15-mile radius of several mosques, which prompt the building’s residents to mobilize to help.

Muslim women gather to organize donated clothing and distribute them to the victims of the deadly Bronx fire at Masjid al-Rahma in the Bronx, New York. (supplied)

Just outside Masjid ar-Rahman, a nearby mosque, several cars parked until late Thursday. Inside, several volunteers sort hundreds of donated items into different bags: toiletries, snacks, men’s shoes and women’s shoes, men’s shirts and women’s shirts, baby clothes, boys’ clothes and girls’ clothes.

“After sorting through them, we have either the family members of the people living in the building immediately come to get some new stuff and we are sending some to the hotels as well,” said 24-year-old Jenabu Simaha. ,

Masjid al-Taqwa, another mosque in the area, collected monetary donations for families and Masjid al-Fawazan also designated a drop-off location for donations. Many items are new.

“What has given us a lot of consolation is the community,” Simha said. “Not only the Muslim community but the Bronx community as well. We have many different volunteers and community members within the region that are coming and providing assistance.”