Burning incense sparked a blaze that killed two girls left home alone while their mother did laundry across the street in the Bronx, fire officials say and surveillance video obtained by NBC 4 New York shows.
Authorities revealed the cause of the blaze Monday morning, hours after 18-month-old Amanda Jabie and her 2-year-old sister Jannubi were pronounced dead in the fire at their four-bedroom unit at the Butler Houses in Claremont.
There were no working smoke detectors inside the apartment, the FDNY said.
Twelve people, including three firefighters, were also injured in the blaze, according to the FDNY.
Witnesses said the girls' mother was at a laundromat nearby when the blaze broke out and ran back across the street after hearing sirens. They said that she collapsed outside the building when she was unable to get in to reach her kids, witnesses said.
Surveillance video obtained by NBC 4 New York shows the mother inside the laundromat, putting her clothes into a machine. She sits down, and then is seen removing clothing from the dryer.
A short time later, customers inside laundromat gather to see a fire raging at the apartment building across the street. The mother moves to the window for a closer view, and a look of terror crosses her face as she realized the fire is at her building. She sprints across Webster Avenue.
"I see her coming straight across from the laundromat, screaming 'my babies, my babies,'" witness Alison Baker told NBC 4 New York Wednesday. "Once they told her she couldn't come inside, she fell right there. They took her away."
Their mother was taken to the hospital, authorities said, and was later questioned by police. She is currently not facing charges.
A neighbor who lives next door said she heard a child's wails from inside the family's apartment.
"I heard the baby crying and I thought somebody was in there with her," said Gladys Dozier. "The baby was crying for about 30 minutes."
"Then all of a sudden I heard them stop," she said.
Cellphone video shows paramedics working desperately to resuscitate the small children outside the building.
"I watched them carry the two children out, lifelessness, it was horrible, horrible," said Baker.
A spokesman for the family, Imam Musa Kabaa, told reporters Thursday that the children's father was at a nearby mosque when the incense sparked the deadly fire in the living room.
"It was not her intention leave her family alone," Kabaa said of the babies' mother. "She went to the laundry. She was about to come back as quick but it takes long there."
The family moved from West Africa several years ago, according to Kabaa. The imam said they would welcome "prayer, help, anything. If they want to come help this family, we can do it together. We are one."