Candles ringed around a bed in a voodoo ceremony in New York City ignited linens and clothes, causing a fatal apartment fire, fire marshals said Friday.
The blaze began around 6:40 p.m. Sunday when a woman visited a fourth-floor apartment in Brooklyn and paid a man $300 to perform a ceremony to bring her good luck. A city official says the man was known in the neighborhood as a priest and the two were having sex when the fire started.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
Candles on the floor around a bed where the ceremony took place ignited bed linens and clothes on the floor, fire officials said. Instead of calling 911, the man began retrieving water from a bathroom sink in a futile effort to put it out, but the flames only grew.
According to Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano, the occupant then opened the door to the hallway, which "allowed fire to spread into the hallway."
"Hopefully others will learn from this tragedy," he said in a statement.
Nearly 50 families were left homeless, and a retired guidance counselor, Mary Feagin, died in the blaze, which took some seven hours to get under control.
Her body was found in the debris on the top floor of the Flatbush building on East 29th Street.
Earlier this week, fire officials said that a dispatching error had delayed getting help to the blaze.
Dispatchers had directed an engine company to the fire on East 29th Street, but it was already at another emergency, helping a police officer who had accidentally shot himself in the leg.
FDNY spokesman Jim Long said the delay lasted "over a minute,'' until dispatchers discovered the error and sent another engine to the apartment fire.
Officials said high winds also intensified the blaze.
Fire engulfed the fourth, fifth and sixth floors, causing part of the roof and fourth floor to collapse.
The fire department said the investigation is ongoing; it was not immediately clear whether there would be charges.