When firefighters got to the six-story brick building on East 191st Street in the Bronx early Saturday, they saw flames shooting from a top-floor window. Strange, sharp popping sounds filled the air and bricks flew from the facade, which meant, a fire lieutenant said later, that the heat was so intense it had swelled the air in the masonry.
As a sixth-floor apartment turned into an inferno, a woman who lived there ran downstairs with a small child. Neighbors said she told them that her husband was still upstairs trying to get their two other children.
Vale Dorsey, 66, who lives on the fifth floor, said he was awakened by his wife. An explosion above had showered shattered glass from a sixth-floor window onto their fire escape. As they rushed downstairs they were joined by other tenants, some wearing pajamas, who were asking one another in Spanish and English what was happening.
As the tenants fled, firefighters hurried up the stairs. When they reached the sixth floor, the fire lieutenant, William Kearns, and Firefighter Christopher O’Brien, both from Ladder 56, and others met a wall of flames surging from the kitchen just inside the door of the burning apartment. Firefighter Rodney Littlejohn used a fire extinguisher to try to keep the fire from spreading, and the heat from the kitchen partly melted his plastic eye shield.
While Firefighter Littlejohn sprayed, Firefighter O’Brien ducked under the flames. There, about 10 feet into the apartment, he found the father of the three children lying in a hallway.
“I heard some moans,” Firefighter O’Brien said on Saturday afternoon, standing outside the building, which is in the Fordham neighborhood. “He was lying on his side.”
Firefighters pulled him from the burning apartment. Soon, a hose had been pulled upstairs and the firefighters trained a stream of water into the kitchen. Other firefighters cut a hole in the building’s roof to vent the blinding smoke.
Lieutenant Kearns and a firefighter from Rescue 3 started going through the apartment room by room, feeling their way through the smoke.
“There was no visibility at all,” Lieutenant Kearns told reporters Saturday afternoon.
In a bedroom, the firefighter from Rescue 3 found a 3-year-old in a bed shaped like a race car. Moments later, Lieutenant Kearns found a 1-year-old in a crib.
The two children and their father were brought to Jacobi Hospital Center, fire officials said, where the man was listed in critical condition and the children were in critical but stable condition. Their names were not immediately released.
On Saturday the apartment where the fire started was badly charred. Paint peeled from the walls and blackened beams were visible along with a stroller.
In the sixth-floor hallway, workers scrubbed streaks of soot from the walls. Inside his apartment on the fifth floor, Mr. Dorsey said that some of the smoke and soot from upstairs had penetrated his apartment, but he counted that as a minor inconvenience.
“I was happy that everybody was safe,” he said. “We got lucky.”