NEW YORK (AP) – Seven siblings who died in a New York City house fire will be buried in Israel.
The children, ages 5 to 16, died early Saturday when flames engulfed the Sassoon family home in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. Investigators believe a hot plate left on a kitchen counter set off the fire that trapped the children and badly injured their mother and another sibling.
Both the mother and the daughter – Gayle Sassoon and 14-year-old Siporah Sassoon – remained in critical condition Sunday morning.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind said the children’s remains will be placed aboard an El Al flight to Tel Aviv after Sunday afternoon funeral services.
“I call this not a tragedy but an absolute disaster,” said Hikind, who represents the Brooklyn neighborhood of Midwood where the fire broke out early Saturday.
The blaze killed three girls and four boys ages 5 to 16 – all members of the neighborhood’s tightknit community of ultra-Orthodox Jews.
“Everyone’s in utter shock,” Hikind said.
The hot plate was left on for the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Many religious Jews refrain from working in all forms including turning on appliances during the Sabbath; some leave them running instead.
The hot plate apparently malfunctioned, setting off the blaze that sent flames up the stairs, trapping the children in their second-floor bedrooms as they slept, investigators said.
Authorities identified the victims as girls Eliane, 16; Rivkah, 11; and Sara, 6; and boys David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakob, 5.
Authorities said their father was at a nearby conference at the time of the fire.
“They were beautiful little children,” said a tearful neighbor, Rose Insel, remembering how she rewarded the kids with lollipops after voluntarily shoveling her walk. “It’s unbelievable. It doesn’t seem possible.”
Another neighbor, Agit Abeckaser, called them an “amazing family.”
“It’s very hard,” she said as her husband prayed for the Sassoons at a nearby synagogue Saturday night.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro called it the city’s worst fatal fire in recent memory and Mayor Bill de Blasio, after touring the charred home, called the blaze a tragedy for the family, the community and the city.
A neighbor, Karen Rosenblatt, said she called 911 after seeing flames and smoke bellowing from the home. Her husband said he heard “what seemed like a young girl scream, ‘Help me! Help me!'” she said.
Firefighters arrived less than four minutes after the 911 call and discovered the badly burned and distraught mother pleading for help. When they broke in the door, firefighters encountered a hopeless situation – a raging fire that already had spread through the kitchen, dining room, common hall, stairway leading upstairs and the rear bedrooms.
The last residential blaze with a similar death toll happened in 2007, when eight children and an adult were killed in a fire in a 100-year-old building in the Bronx where several African immigrant families lived. Fire officials said an overheated space heater cord sparked that blaze.