NEW YORK -- New York City's deadliest residential fire in decades spread through every floor of a Bronx apartment building within a matter of minutes, city officials said, killing 12 people -- including four children -- and sending other residents scrambling outside into the cold and down fire escapes to safety.
Those who died Thursday night included girls ages 1, 2 and 7, and a boy whose age was not given.
Other people were still fighting for their lives, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday morning. He said first responders saved at least 12 lives.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro called the fire, "historic in its magnitude" because of the number of lives lost. Excluding the Sept. 11 attacks, it was the worst fire in the city since 87 people were killed at a social club fire in the Bronx in 1990.
"Our hearts go out to every person who lost a loved one here and everyone who is fighting for their lives," Nigro said.
The blaze broke out on the first floor of a five-story building just before 7 p.m. and quickly tore through the roughly century-old structure near the Bronx Zoo.
Some tenants of the building, a mix of native New Yorkers and Latino and African immigrants, climbed down fire escapes. But the flames moved so fast that many never made it out of their apartments.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation.
About 170 firefighters worked in 15-degree weather to rescue about a dozen people from the building.
Many questions remained in the immediate aftermath of the blaze, including how the fire spread so quickly in a brick building built after catastrophic fires at the turn of the 20th century ushered in an era of tougher enforcement of fire codes.
The building had more than 20 units. It was not new enough that it was required to have modern-day fireproofing such as sprinkler systems and interior steel construction.
Witnesses described seeing burned bodies being carried away on stretchers and young girls who had escaped standing barefoot outside with no coats.