Community reels after devastating Midwood fire

Overwhelming grief: Hundreds turned out at Shomrei Hadas Chapel in Borough Park Monday for the funeral of the seven children killed in a Midwood housefire on Saturday.
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A deadly fire tore through a Midwood home in the early hours of March 21, killing seven children from one orthodox Jewish family, and leaving their mother and a sibling fighting for life.

Only the mother and a 14-year-old daughter survived the blaze, which authorities say was sparked by a hot plate used to heat food on the Sabbath. They were able to escape by leaping from a second-story window before the flames ripped through the house, trapping the other children, who ranged in age from five to 15, police said.

The victims were identified as Eliane Sassoon, 16; Rivkah Sassoon, 11; David Sassoon, 12; Yeshua Sassoon, 10; Moshe Sassoon, 8; Sara Sassoon, 6, and Yaakob Sassoon, 5.

The mother, Gayle Sassoon, and her second-oldest daughter Siporah had managed to jump out of a second-story window and, though badly burned, summoned a neighbor for help, according to news reports.

About 100 firefighters responded to the 911 call shortly after midnight on March 21 to find the building engulfed in flames. Responders declared one of the sisters dead at the scene, while the other six children were declared dead at area hospitals, cops said.

Paramedics transported the mother to the burn center at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, and her daughter to Staten Island University North Hospital burn center, both in critical condition, police said.

The children’s father was away at a religious conference, according to the New York Times.

As hundreds flocked to funerals for the victims, local elected officials mourned the family’s loss and called for increased attention to fire safety in the borough.

“The grief felt throughout my district is palpable, as we are distraught and in mourning,” said Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D–Sheepshead Bay) in a statement. “Seven young brothers and sisters perished while a fire raged through their bedrooms. This inconceivable tragedy has left a family broken and a community devastated. We must educate ourselves in an attempt to avert future disaster. We cannot afford to have another catastrophe. It is imperative that we be conscientious and prepared.”

Authorities say there were no smoke detectors on the first and second floors of the house, leading Borough President Adams to announce a fire-safety education program and smoke-detector giveaway, and call for the establishment of a burn center in a hospital within the borough.

The death toll from the blaze is the worst in New York since a fire in the Bronx claimed 10 lives from two families, but Mayor DeBlasio, who toured the site as fire fighters continued to sift through the wreckage, said Saturday’s blaze stands out for its devastating impact on one family.

“I talked to the commissioner and the chief, and they believe this is one of the worst fire tragedies in many, many years in this city,” he said on Saturday afternoon. “Neither could remember the loss of seven children from one family in their long memory working in this department. So this is a tragedy that has very few examples for us to look at.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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