A mother and three of her children, aged 11, 7 and 3, all died early Monday morning after a fire ripped through their New York City home. Her husband and two other teenage children were left in critical condition.
The cause is still under investigation by fire marshals, but Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement per the Associated Press that “it was early morning; everyone in the home was asleep.” The fire “got a good start before a neighbor noticed and called us.”
According to Nigro, 39-year-old Aliza Azan was found dead on the second floor of the home and near her three children: 11-year-old Moshe; 7-year-old Yitzah and 3-year-old Henrietta. Nine people — the parents, their six children and one cousin — were home at the time of the blaze.
The family was known in their community for lighting menorah candles during Hanukkah, the news outlet reports.
Neighbors told New York’s Daily News the family used oil to light a large menorah in their living room. It is unclear how the fire started, but Nigro told the outlet it’s a “possibility” the menorah played a role in the blaze.
The fire — which began around 2:30 a.m. in the Sheepsheed Bay area of Brooklyn — becomes even more tragic, says Nigro, because of the timing.
“So often, tragedy strikes at this time of year, and the holidays make it that much more difficult because our communities should be celebrating, not mourning,” he said. “This is a terrible tragedy, not just for this community, but for our city. This time of year, when these things strike, it just tears your heart out for the family. Our city grieves with this family today.”
Despite firefighters arriving two and half minutes later, the fire had already spread to all three floods of the building. When firefighters were greeted with flames at front door, they “pushed in very aggressively,” says Nigro.
The father and two teenagers are currently in the hospital in critical condition.