New York City

Family of Six Who Perished in Tragic Harlem Blaze Died of Smoke Inhalation, Burns: Medical Examiner

What to Know

  • Medical examiner revealed cause of death of family who perished in a blaze that tore through their Harlem apartment earlier this month
  • The ME determined the family of six, which included four children under the age of 11, died of smoke inhalation and thermal burns
  • The fire allegedly started on the kitchen stove before it engulfed the apartment

The family of six, including four children no older than 11, who perished in a blaze that tore through their Harlem apartment earlier this month died of smoke inhalation and thermal burns, the city’s medical examiner announced Wednesday.

The May 8 fire that allegedly started on the kitchen stove before it engulfed the rest of the apartment claimed the lives of 45-year-old Andrea Pollidore and her children -- 4- and 8-year-old boys, 6- and 11-year-old girls -- along with a 32-year-old family friend Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

The medical examiner also classified their manner of death as an accident.

A source close to the probe previously told News 4 investigators found a burner in the "on" position and something was cooking on the stove at the time they fire broke out in a fifth-floor apartment kitchen at the Frederick E. Samuel Apartments on Seventh Avenue. Family members told investigators the mother would disconnect her smoke alarm when cooking, the source said.

The FDNY confirmed the evening of the fire that the blaze was caused by unattended cooking. The department didn't recover a smoke alarm at that time.

One neighbor said he'll never forget the screams.

The victims were found unresponsive in two back bedrooms after firefighters doused the flames; they were all pronounced dead at the scene. Three other people suffered minor smoke inhalation.

At a press conference following the tragic fire, Mayor Bill de Blasio called the blaze and loss of life "extraordinarily painful" and "gut wrenching."

De Blasio said the preliminary investigation pointed to the blaze being a horrible accident.

During the same press conference, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said it appeared that the fire likely started on the kitchen stove before extending to the rest of the apartment.

Nigro explained that the family was unable to get to the front door or the fire escapes in the apartment given that the kitchen is the closest room to the front door and the fire escapes are on the side opposite of the bedrooms.

The fire took place in a NYCHA building. NYCHA Interim Chair and CEO Kathryn Garcia also addressed the public during the press conference.

"It's been a very tragic day for the NYCHA family," she said.

Additionally, she said, records indicate that combination fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors were installed in the building in June 2017 and tested in January 2019.

The fire ended up being one of the deadliest in New York City in recent years. In 2017, one in the Bronx, sparked by a toddler playing with a stove, killed a dozen people. At the time, the FDNY commissioner called the blaze "historic in its magnitude."

Ten years earlier, 10 people died -- nine of them children -- in a four-story house fire in the Bronx. Excluding the Sept. 11 attacks, the 2017 fire was the city's deadliest since 1990, when 87 people were killed at a social club fire in another part of the borough.

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