Midwood, NY – The community came out en masse on Thursday to mourn the death of an eight-year-old boy with “a pure holy soul,” killed after a vicious fire ravaged the top floor of a three-story home on Avenue P.
Fire officials said the three-alarm fire near East 12th Street broke out around 9:45 pm the night before, as the children were preparing for bed in their candle-lit third-floor Midwood apartment and some 20 people were eating outside, observing the last night of the holiday of Sukkot, a seven-day festival where Jews eat in booths to mark their 40-years in desert exile after escaping Egypt.
Witnesses said parents Jacob and Hannah Krasny were outside when they heard their children screams pierce the evening calm.
“They were in the sukkah — they didn’t even know at first,” said Mordi Sadaka, 12, an area resident.
The father reportedly tried to pull his six children out two at a time. The mother soothed her terrified kids, holding the hand of her youngest, repeating, “Mommy’s here with you.”
The kids’ father heroically ran into his burning home multiple times and rescued five of his children but tragically couldn’t reach an 8-year-old boy trying to escape the flames through a third-floor window.
“I saw the boy hanging out of the window screaming as firefighters started to rescue him,” said a neighbor, David Cohen.
“I was around the corner when I heard an explosion and I started smelling smoke,” said a woman who lives nearby.
“I looked up and saw huge flames licking the sky coming from the middle of the house from the attic.”
Another witness, who also asked not to be identified, saw “the father running back into the house when it was still on fire to bring back all the kids to the mom.
“I don’t know how he made it out alive.”
The children were screaming,” said Rebecca Liss. “The parents heard them, but it was too late.”
But no one could get to his son, Avigdor, whom witnesses saw running back and forth in front of his bedroom window before he disappeared in the choking smoke of the three-alarm fire.
“Avigdor was trapped in his bedroom,” said Avi Litowitz, 44. “He had no way out.”
Despite his efforts, the dad couldn’t make it past the intense flames that trapped his third-floor bedroom. The boy was pronounced dead at Coney Island Hospital at approximately midnight.
“I saw him holding his head and crying” afterward, the witness said.
Fire Chief Michael Marone said the “flames were substantial and [the child] was trapped in his bedroom.
“It was very tough to get him out because the flames were at the very top, which is where he was trapped.”
Four children – a 10-year-old boy named Benjamin, a 7-year-old boy, a 5-year-old girl named Miriam and a 3-year-old boy named Yitzhak – were all taken to a burn unit at Staten Island University Hospital North, officials said.
All except Miriam, who is in serious condition, were being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
“The whole community is mourning,” said Ben Greiper, a rabbi. “These were amazing people. We’re all devastated.”
A day after the fire, children’s bicycles littered the front yard, the frame of baby stroller sat cockeyed near rain-soaked trash. The sick smell of smoke lingered heavy in the humid air.
“This takes away the whole pleasure of the holiday,” said neighbor Ben Kohen.
As neighbors gathered, workers covered the gaping hole torn into the side of the home by firefighters the night before.
Those who knew the family said they generally kept to themselves.
“They were very quiet,” said Mayer Sakkal, who lives across the street. “It’s a real shame. This doesn’t happen around here.”
Thirteen-year-old Esther Sadaka described Avigdor as “very sweet and kind of shy.”
Five other children, ranging from 1 to 10 years old, were injured in the blaze. A 1-year old girl was in critical condition at Staten Island University Hospital North, and four others — a 3-year-old boy, a 5-year-old girl, a 7-year-old boy and a 10-year-old boy — were in stable condition at the same hospital.
At press time, the cause of the fire was still unknown, though a fire official at the scene said the blaze started in the kitchen, and speculated that a ‘blech’ — a hotplate used by observant Jews so as not to violate the prohibition of cooking during the Sabbath or certain holidays — may have been the root of the tragedy.
The fire marshals were exploring whether the hot plate – left plugged in to warm food during the holiday – sparked the three-alarm blaze, sources said. FDNY officials said the cause was still under investigation late yesterday.
Also a number of mattresses were strewn about the floor. The mattresses may have helped spread the flames, fire officials said.
Roughly 20 people were in the house at the time of the fire, which was occupied by two separate families. Neighbors said the Krasnys lived on the third floor, a day care center operated from the basement ofthe property, and a rabbi also maintained a room in the home.
Members of the family who lived below the Krasny’s refused to discuss the fire.
“What else can be added to the story?” a woman asked.
Two festive holidays directly follow Sukkot: Shemini Atzeret, which translates to “the eighth day of assembly,” and Simchat Torah, a celebration marking the completion of the yearly cycle of Torah readings.
But there was no joy on Avenue P, where Jews from around the world — including Iran, Egypt, and Europe — live.
“It’s a Jewish family. It’s a sad thing for all of us,” said one resident who didn’t give his name.
Four firefighters suffered minor injuries.
It took more than an hour to get the three-alarm blaze under control.