A car parked too close to a Westchester County home somehow caught fire, blocking the only exit from the basement apartment and leading to the death of a couple and their two adult children in an early morning blaze Tuesday, authorities said. Another son survived with second-degree burns.
“The fatal mistake” was that the car was only four feet from the basement doorway of the multi-family home, said Mount Vernon Fire Department Chief of Operations Edward Stevenson.
It was unclear what caused the vehicle, a 1998 Honda Civic owned by one of the victims, to catch on fire, Stevenson said.
Authorities identified the victims as Alcedo Urena, about 60; his wife, Nancy, 39; his son, Jesus, 21, and daughter Mariselis, 18. Another son, Reymondo Urena, 19, was hospitalized with second-degree burns to his face and hands.
Stevenson said Reymondo Urena said the family was asleep when he heard a small explosion, followed by a larger one. When Urena went to the door, “he was met with a large amount of black smoke.”
Urena told authorities he went to wake his family, and then tried to make his way out. He came across his brother, who had collapsed, but was unable to get him out.
“He just made it out himself,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson said fire officials were told the two Urena children who died had made it out but went back in to attempt to rescue their parents. Nancy and Mariselis Urena were found near the parents’ bedroom, and Alcedo Urena was found on a staircase between the basement and ground floor. A door between the floors had been locked on both sides.
Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis said, “One person was on the staircase trying to get out but was engulfed in the fire.”
He added, “there were locks that should not have been there,” and said the city’s buildings department would investigate. The residents of the other two apartments in the structure, a couple with two children and another couple with one child, escaped unharmed.
Stevenson said Reymondo Urena kicked in a window air conditioner when he got out, which combined with the open back door, only served to feed the flames. When firefighters arrived, there was “fire blowing out every window,” he said.
Jose Brito, a nephew of Alcedo Urena, said his uncle had lived in the United States for a long time but that his wife and children arrived from the Dominican Republic a few years ago.
“My cousin called me around 5 a.m. and told me what was going on,” he said of the fire. “I couldn’t believe it. ... When I saw my mother crying it hit me. I saw everybody crying, and it got to me.”
Page 2 of 2 - “It was the family in this neighborhood that everybody would go visit,” Brito said of the Urenas. “They were always cooking and making coffee for everybody.”
Relatives outside the house wailed as they watched the fire burn.
“We had fire all around us. Fire out the rear. Every entrance to the basement was covered in flames,” said Battista, adding that the door from the first floor to the basement was locked, and firefighters had to use tools to break in.
The house, on a residential street of the city just north of the Bronx, sustained heavy damage up to the top floor. The back of the house was blackened, and the windows and doors were gone.
Three families lived in the house, each occupying one floor, said Abigail Adams, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, which was assisting the families that lived on the top floors.
One civilian and three firefighters suffered non-life threatening injuries in the fire, which erupted at 3:30 a.m. and was brought under control nearly six hours later.
Richard Fernandez, 16, Alcedo Urena’s grandson, said when his family got a call about the blaze “we were just hoping they were all alive.”
“Now all we have are memories. There was nothing we could do but cry,” he said.
His grandfather “was a fun guy to be around,” Fernandez said.