“It just felt like death.” A year later Twin Parks survivors discuss the deadly fire
It's been one year since a tragic fire rocked the Bronx and killed 17 people. The deadly day would go down in history as one of the city's deadliest fires in decades. While time has passed, the sights and sounds of Jan. 9, 2022 still haunt survivors.
"Fire, no. Never thought I'd go through that," says Wesley Patterson.
Patterson, a now former tenant of the Twin Parks North West apartment building, lived in the building for 20 years and was home the morning of the fire.
"It just felt like death. Like I was about to die. Honestly," Patterson recalls.
Thoughts of impending doom clouded his mind as fire alarms reverberated throughout his third-floor apartment.
"I was just sleeping, and I looked in the room and there were flames hitting the window. So right then and there, it's like 'oh it's a fire'," said Patterson.
The fire was coming from the apartment next door. The culprit was deemed by fire officials to be a faulty space heater that burst into flames.
"We were blowing our nose, and there was soot, like black soot coming out," Patterson remembers as the fire spread.
A few stories up, Milagros Colon, another tenant, was also panicking.
"We tried to open the door, the hall was black with smoke, you couldn't see a thing," said Colon.
On the day of the fire, 120 families lived in the 19-story building. As the building burned, many could be seen waving from their windows for help. It was at that moment that it became clear many of them were trapped.
"We were just trapped in there. Tried to get out, but I burnt my hands on the door," explained Patterson.
Smoke billowed out of windows as firefighters carried soot-covered bodies out on stretchers.
"From the window, I could see how the firefighters were giving people CPR, and I would tell my husband 'babe open the window and let's jump'," said Colon as she broke down in tears.
Seventeen people ended up dying from smoke filling their lungs, eight of them were children. They were all from the West African community.
"That day was gray, it was sad," Colon says.
As fate would have it, Colon survived.
"When I left, I left through the elevator and I went downstairs and they took me through the back door," Colon explained.
Patterson also survived.
"I cried once I got out of the building. I cried once we all touched the concrete," says Patterson.
One year later, most of the building has been repaired. Some of the families have moved back in, while others cannot bear the thought of returning. What they all have in common though is that the fire continues to impact them.
"Every time I hear fire departments go past, it bothers me. I smell smoke and it bothers me, I check my hallway," Patterson said.
Colon chose to stay in her apartment. But she has a new outlook on life.
"God gave me a new lease on life. Right now, I want to do things that I didn't do. You don't realize how good it is to breathe and I have been doing it since I was born," says Colon.
The fire at Twin Parks North West would go down as the city's deadliest fire in more than three decades. A title it still holds today. The fire would also set the stage for potentially life-saving legislation to follow with hope of that title never being passed on.