Community readies to bury 7 siblings killed in fire

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NEW YORK – The tightknit Orthodox Jewish community in New York City where seven siblings died in a house fire during the Sabbath was reeling Sunday as funeral services for the children were being prepared.

“I call this not a tragedy but an absolute disaster,” said state Assemblyman Dov 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, leaving their mother and another child critically injured.

“Everyone’s in utter shock,” Hikind said.

Funeral plans were tentatively set for late Sunday afternoon.

Investigators believe a hot plate left on a kitchen counter set off the blaze that sent flames up the stairs, trapping the children in their second-floor bedrooms as they slept. Many religious Jews who observe the Sabbath refrain from working, in all forms, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday – including using electricity.

Authorities identified the Sasoon family victims as girls Eliane, 16; Rivkah, 11; and Sara, 6; and boys David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakob, 5.

The children’s mother, 45, and her 14-year-old daughter managed to escape the flames through a second-story window, police told CBS New York.

Authorities say their father was at a nearby conference at the time of the fire. Neither his name nor those of the survivors were released.

“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 Sasoons 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.

Neighbor Andrew Rosenblatt told CBS New York he called 911 after he heard cries for help.

“I was up in the back room on the computer and I hear screaming from a child, ‘Mommy, mommy, help me'” Rosenblatt said. “It’s devastating. You never expect it to happen so close.”

Officials said more than 100 firefighters responded and brought the blaze under control at around 1:30 a.m. Firefighters were on the scene less than 3.5 minutes after the call came in, according to New York Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

Upon arrival, rescuers 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 had already spread through the kitchen, dining room, common hall, stairway leading upstairs and the rear bedrooms.

The children were all trapped in their bedrooms in the back of the top floor, CBS New York reports.

“It’s difficult to find one child in a room during a search,” Nigro said. “To find a house full of children that can’t be revived, I’m sure it will take its toll on our members for quite some time.”

Nigro said it appeared there were no working smoke detectors on the first and second floors of the home.

Fire investigators found a smoke detector in the basement of the home, but so far none have been found elsewhere in the house, Nigro said.

“The children were so lovely. Whenever it snowed, they would clean my walk without even telling me. I would give them lollipops and they were so happy with the lollipops,” the Sassoon’s neighbor Rose Insel said.

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.

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