TIME Israel

7 Children Killed in House Fire Brought to Israel for Burial

Fatal Brooklyn Fire
Julio Cortez—AP Mourners attend funeral services for the seven siblings killed in a house fire in Brooklyn on March 22, 2015

The family had moved about a year and a half ago from East Jerusalem

(NEW YORK) — The bodies of seven siblings who died in a house fire are headed to Israel for burial, a day after their sobbing father told mourners in his ultra-Orthodox Jewish community how much joy they had brought him.

“They were so pure,” Gabriel Sassoon said Sunday of his children during a eulogy. “My wife, she came out fighting.”

Flames engulfed the family’s two-story, brick-and-wood home in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood early Saturday, likely after a hot plate left on a kitchen counter set off the fire that trapped the children and badly injured their mother and another sibling, investigators said.

The tragedy had some neighborhood Jews reconsidering the practice of keeping hot plates on for the Sabbath, a common modern method of obeying tradition prohibiting use of fire on the holy day.

The service at the Shomrei Hadas funeral home began with prayers in Hebrew, accompanied by the wailing voices of mourners. They could be heard through speakers that broadcast the rite to thousands of people gathered outside on the streets in traditional black robes and flat-brimmed hats.

After the funeral, mourners hugged the sides of SUVs with flashing lights that took the bodies of the children, ages 5 to 16 — accompanied by their father — to John F. Kennedy International Airport for the flight to Israel.

Sassoon’s surviving wife and a daughter — Gayle Sassoon and 14-year-old Siporah Sassoon — remained in critical condition on respirators.

“My children were unbelievable. They were the best,” Sassoon said at their funerals, calling them “angels.”

Authorities identified the victims as girls Eliane, 16; Rivkah, 11; and Sara, 6; and boys David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakob, 5.

“Eliane was a spirited child. Rivkah, she had so much joy,” their father said.

Rivkah “gave joy to everybody,” he said. “And David, he was so fun.”

Yeshua was “always trying to make others happy,” as was Yaakob, Sassoon said.

At the time of the fire, Sassoon — a religious education instructor — was in Manhattan at a Shabbaton, an educational retreat.

The hot plate was left on for the Sabbath, which lasts from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Many religious Jews use one to keep food warm, obeying the traditional prohibition on use of fire on the holy day as well as work in all forms, including turning on appliances.

The Sassoons’ hot plate apparently malfunctioned, setting off flames that tore up the stairs, trapping the children in their second-floor bedrooms as they slept, investigators said.

A neighbor, Karen Rosenblatt, said she called 911 after seeing flames and smoke billowing from the home. Her husband said he heard “what seemed like a young girl scream, ‘Help me! Help me!'” she said.

Firefighters arrived in less than four minutes and discovered the badly burned and distraught mother pleading for help, officials said. When they broke in the door, they encountered a raging fire that had spread through the kitchen, dining room, common hall, stairway leading upstairs and the rear bedrooms.

“I couldn’t help crying my heart out as I saw the house,” said Dalia Hen, 51, a Midwood neighbor. “It’s like our own children.”

State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents Midwood, said he’s hearing from more and more people concerned about use of the hot plates on Sabbath. He said he called his daughter, who has six children and uses a hot plate, and told her, “You’ve got to stop using that.”

“This is an important wakeup call for people, because it may save your life or the life of your children,” he said.

Shifra Schorr, 44, a mother of five a few blocks from the Sassoon house, said she and her friends don’t use hot plates, but “we’re all talking about it.”

Earlier at the family’s fire-gutted home on Bedford Avenue, a police officer stood guard as contractors boarded up windows with plywood.

Across the street from the Sassoon home, 89-year-old Izzy Abade said he’d watched Gayle Sassoon grow up, then her children.

“They used to play right across the street, riding bikes, playing in the backyard, playing ball.”

The family had moved about a year and a half ago from East Jerusalem, a contested part of the city where both Arabs and Jews live.

“There’s only one way to survive this,” Gabriel Sassoon said of his children’s deaths. “There is only total and complete, utter surrender.”

TIME fire

7 Children Killed in Fire at New York City Home

Daniel Nigro
Mary Altaffer—AP New York's Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro describes the fire to reporters during a news conference, March 21, 2015, in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

(NEW YORK)—A fire apparently caused by a malfunctioning hotplate left on for the Sabbath tore through a Brooklyn home early Saturday, leaving seven children from the same Orthodox Jewish family dead and their mother and another child in critical condition, authorities said.

Three girls — ages 8, 12, 15 — and four boys — ages 5, 6, 7 and 11 — were killed, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

A teenage girl survived along with a woman who is believed to be the mother of all eight children by jumping from second-floor windows, he said. Both were hospitalized after suffering burns and smoke inhalation.

The commissioner called it the worst tragedy by fire in the city recent memory.

“It’s a tragedy for this family, it’s a tragedy for this community, it’s a tragedy for the city,” he said.

The fatal fire started shortly after midnight while the children were asleep in five bedrooms in the rear of the home in Midwood, a leafy section of Brooklyn known for its low crime and large Orthodox Jewish population. Fireinvestigators believe a hot plate left on a kitchen counter ignited the flames that raced up the stairs to the second floor, Nigro said.

More than 100 firefighters responded and brought the fire, Nigro said. After forcing their way in, the firefighters found the young victims motionless in their bedrooms.

“It’s difficult to find one child in a room during a search,” he said. “To find a houseful of seven children that can’t be revived …”

The names of the deceased were not released. Nigro said he believes the father is at a conference and officials have not yet been able to contact him.

Many religious Jews do not use electricity on the Sabbath, along with refraining from work and observing other prohibitions meant to keep the day holy. As a result, some families may leave them on so they are usable without violating any religious laws or traditions.

Neighbors who spoke to reporters declined to give their names, but expressed great sadness over the fire.

Fire investigators found a smoke detector in the basement of the home, but so far none have been found elsewhere in the house, Nigro said.

“There was no evidence of smoke detectors on either the first or the second floor that may have alerted this family to the fire,” he said.

Neighbor Nate Weber told the New York Post that he saw children being wheeled away on stretchers.

“I just turned away. I didn’t even want to look,” he said.

Weber told the New York Daily News he heard the children’s mother yelling for someone to rescue her children after she jumped from a window.

“I heard a woman yelling: ‘My kids are in there. Get them out! Get them out!'” he told the Post.

The last residential blaze with a similar death toll happened in 2007, when eight children and an adult were killed in a fire in a 100-year-old building in the Bronx where several African immigrant families lived. Fire officials said an overheated space heater cord sparked that blaze.

TIME animals

See Firefighters Resuscitate Unconscious Cats

Clackamas Fire District 1

After a blaze, they saved two cats with feline-fitted oxygen masks

These firefighters are rescuing cats—not from trees, but from smoke inhalation.

After extinguishing a blaze in Oregon City, Ore. on Monday, rescue workers discovered two unconscious cats on the second floor of the house, Clackamas Fire District 1 says in a press release.

The firefighters brought the cats outside and treated them with special pet resuscitation equipment—plastic, cone-shaped oxygen masks fitted to the animals’ size that funnel air to their lungs.

Both cats revived and were taken to the vet by the homeowner’s son.

The fire department carries its pet equipment on all calls, and stocks masks for cats and dogs, officials say. And this isn’t the first time the department’s machines have added to a feline’s nine lives: it’s the second time in two months that the equipment has helped revive cats.

TIME conflict

Who Started the Reichstag Fire?

World War Two
FPG / Getty Images Firemen surveying the ruins following the Reichstag fire in Germany, 1933.

On Feb. 27, 1933, the building was destroyed — and no matter who did it, the Nazis got what they wanted

It’s a semi-mystery that’s over eight decades long: who set fire to the Reichstag, the German parliament, on Feb. 27, 1933?

As described in the Mar. 6, 1933, issue of TIME, the arson came amid “a campaign of unparalleled violence and bitterness” by then-Chancellor Adolf Hitler, in advance of an approaching German election, and it turned a building that was “as famous through Germany as is the dome of the Capitol in Washington among U. S. citizens” into “a glowing hodge-podge of incandescent girders.”

Marinus van der Lubbe, an unemployed Dutch bricklayer linked to the Communist party, was tried and executed for the crime the following year, but even then TIME questioned whether the Nazis who held him responsible were also the ones who had paid him to set the fire, “promising to save his neck by a Presidential reprieve and to reward him handsomely for hiding their identity and taking the whole blame in court.”

In 1981, a West Berlin court declared that the trial had been “a miscarriage of justice,” though they stopped short of saying that he had been innocent. In 2001, evidence emerged that the conspiracy theory had been right along, with historians announcing that the Nazis had been the ones responsible for the fire, though even then others disagreed — and, as recently as 2014, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum noted that “the origins of the fire are still unclear.”

But, while van der Lubbe’s life still hung in the balance, reporting on the aftermath of the fire made clear that, whoever set the spark, the aftermath had already been determined by Nazi powers, in their own favor. Here’s how TIME summed it up just a week after the original report on the fire:

Before German Democracy could thus be downed this week, the Hitler Cabinet had to launch last week a juggernaut of super-suppressive measures & decrees for which they needed an excuse. What excuse could be better than the colossal act of arson which had just sent a $1,500,000 fire roaring through the Reichstag Building […] gutting completely the brown oak Reichstag Chamber and ruining its great dome of gilded copper and glass.

The Reichstag fire was set by Communists, police promptly charged. Over a nationwide radio hookup the Minister of Interior for Prussia, blustering Nazi Captain Hermann Wilhelm Göring, cried: “The Reichstag fire was to have been the signal for the outbreak of civil war! … The Communists had in readiness ‘terror squads’ of 200 each … These were to commit their dastardly acts disguised as units of our own Nazi Storm Troops and the Stahlhelm … The women and children of high Government officials were to have been kidnapped as hostages and used in the civil war as ‘living shields’!…

“The Communists had organized to poison food … and burn down granaries throughout the Reich … They planned to use every kind of weapon—even hot water, knives and forks and boiling oil!…

“From all these horrors we have saved the Fatherland! We want to state clearly that the measures taken are not a mere defense against Communism. Ours is a fight to the finish until Communism has been absolutely uprooted in Germany!”

The “juggernaut” of new decrees included increasing the weaponry provided to Nazi troops (despite violation of the Treaty of Versailles) and the transfer of the majority of state powers from President Paul von Hindenburg to Hitler and his cabinet. Rights ensured by the German constitution were suspended, and a gag rule was placed on foreign journalists within the country, with severe punishments for violation. The German government was moved from Berlin to Potsdam. Within the month, TIME reported that nearly all of the country’s leading Communists and Socialists were in jail. By April, Nazis were using the threat of another fire to ensure the passage of the Enabling Act, which solidified Hitler’s place as dictatorial leader for years to come.

Whether Nazi involvement in the Reichstag fire was direct or indirect or, improbably, nonexistent, the result was the same.

TIME Accident

Witness the Aftermath of the New York Train Crash

Seven people were killed and several others injured after a commuter train collided with an SUV and caught fire Tuesday evening outside New York City

TIME Disaster

Firefighters Battle Massive Blaze Amid Freezing Temperatures in NYC

Largest blaze FDNY has battled since 2006

Around 270 firefighters and emergency medical services personnel were working to contain a seven-alarm fire on the New York City waterfront Saturday.

The blaze, which engulfed a storage building in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, cast thick, black smoke across the New York City skyline.

Firefighters are expected to be on the scene for days and possibly weeks, a FDNY spokesperson told TIME. Attempts to contain the fire were hampered by sub-freezing temperatures and high gusts of wind.

The fire is the largest the FDNY has battled since a 2006 fire at the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, also in Brooklyn.

 

TIME fire

New Jersey Fire Leaves 1,000 Homeless

Massive fire at apartment complex in New Jersey
Cem Ozdel—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Firefighters at the scene after a fire broke out in an apartment complex at in Edgewater, N.J. on Jan. 22, 2015.

Officials are still investigating the cause of the blaze

A massive fire at a luxury apartment complex in New Jersey on Wednesday night left more than 1,000 people homeless on Thursday.

There were no deaths in the blaze that destroyed the complex in Edgewater, just across the Hudson River from New York City, NJ.com reports, and only a few minor injuries were reported. Officials were still investigating the cause of the fire Thursday morning. The Avalon complex was quickly engulfed in flames that destroyed 240 units, leaving 500 residents homeless. It then spread to nearby homes, displacing another 500.

“Everyone got out,” Edgewater Mayor Michael McPartland said. “You can always rebuild.”

[NJ.com]

TIME Italy

8 Dead After Passengers Evacuated From Burning Italian Ferry

Passenger is helped as he leaves from the " Spirit of Piraeus" cargo container ship as they arrive in Bari harbour, after the car ferry Norman Atlantic caught fire in waters off Greece
Reuters A passenger is helped as he leaves from the " Spirit of Piraeus" cargo container ship as they arrive in Bari harbour, after the car ferry Norman Atlantic caught fire in waters off Greece December 29, 2014.

427 people were rescued, including 56 crew members

At least eight passengers have died after a grueling evacuation of an Italian ferry was completed Monday, more than 24 hours after the ship burst into flames Sunday in the Adriatic Sea.

Search efforts are continuing after the all survivors were evacuated by Monday afternoon, with 427 people rescued, including 56 crew members, from the Norman Atlantic ferry, the Associated Press reported.

The original ferry manifest contained 422 passengers and 56 crew members, but officials said it was too early to speculate if people were still missing, as some may have not boarded the ferry. Officials also said some survivors were not listed on the manifest, which suggests they had been traveling illegally.

Poor weather conditions and choppy seas reportedly slowed rescue efforts being carried out by Italian and Greek authorities.

“It will be a very difficult night. A night in which we hope we will be able to rescue all on board,” said Greek Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, according to the Associated Press.

Medical personnel had been dropped on to the ferry to treat passengers who were believed to be suffering from hypothermia as they waited for rescuers to evacuate the rest of the ship.

Officials last inspected the craft less than two weeks ago and six deficiencies were reportedly discovered; however, the vessel was still deemed seaworthy, according to AP.

The fire broke out in the early hours of Sunday morning on the ferry’s car deck, when nearly 500 people were on board, including 422 passengers and 56 crew members.

[AP]

TIME natural disaster

See the Worst Natural Disasters of 2014

When it comes to acts of God, 2014 wasn’t a particularly active year. No powerful hurricane struck the U.S. like Sandy in 2012 or Katrina in 2005. There was no singlecatastrophic event like the Asian tsunami of 2004, which killed nearly 300,000 people, the Haiti earthquake of 2010, which killed over 200,000, or even the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in 2010, which disrupted air travel for weeks.

But while there wasn’t a single iconic catastrophe, Mother Earth was still plenty busy in 2014. A volcano in Hawaii, a typhoon in the Philippines, wildfires in California and seven feet of snow in Buffalo—this year has witnessed its share of extreme weather and other natural disasters. The photos that follow are a reminder that when the Earth moves or the heavens strike, the results can be gorgeous to see—provided you’re not caught in the middle.

MORE: The most beautiful wildfire photos you’ll ever see

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