New York

Menorah blamed for Brooklyn fire that killed mother, 3 children

5 others injured; father in critical condition
Firefighters at the scene of a house fire in Brooklyn early Monday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Firefighters at the scene of a house fire in Brooklyn early Monday.

NEW YORK — It was the sixth night of Hanukkah, and in a front room of the Azan family’s three-story Brooklyn home was an oil-burning menorah. The family placed it where the Talmud says to: in the window, so a passer-by could see.

As the family slept around 2 a.m. Monday, flames leapt from near the menorah, starting a fire that killed three Azan children and their mother and badly injured their father and other children, the Fire Department said.

The menorah, about 2 feet wide, burned oil held in small glass cups. Fire marshals suspect the glass may have cracked under extended heat exposure, spilling oil and spreading flames, a Fire Department official said.

From the first floor, the fire proceeded to rip through the home, hurtling up two sets of staircases and trapping part of the family inside as others fled through a side door or jumped down from a second-floor landing.

After firefighters extinguished the blaze, the mother, Aliza Azan, 39, was found dead on the second floor. So too, police said, were Moshe Azan, 11; Yitzah Azan, 7; and Henrietta Azan, 3. They had all been asleep there.

The children’s father, Yosi Azan, ran through the second floor as flames clawed at him, trying to save his family, officials said. He helped a teenage son and teenage daughter out a window and onto the first-floor roof. They hesitated to jump, and so Yosi Azan apparently helped nudge them off the roof to safety, according to an account given to investigators.

When Azan reached the ground himself, he told a fire chief there were four people left inside, but the fire and smoke were too thick for firefighters to push through right away, the fire official said.

Both teenagers broke bones, one of them a pelvis. Yosi Azan and the two teenagers were taken to Staten Island University Hospital, where they were in critical condition and “fighting for their lives,” Daniel A. Nigro, New York City fire commissioner, said. The father was believed to have internal burns from inhaling smoke.

Nigro said of the father, “I believe he acted very courageously and tried desperately, and hopefully it didn’t cost his life, too.”

Two younger teenagers asleep in a back bedroom on the first floor, one of them a cousin of the Azan children, escaped out a side door with less serious injuries. They heard a fire alarm and yelled to alert other members of their family, Nigro said. They were taken to Maimonides Medical Center.

The teenagers helped lead fire marshals to the cause when they told them that the menorah had been left burning after they went to sleep and that they saw the fire start nearby. Investigators recovered remnants of the broken menorah.

Investigators had not found other smoke alarms beyond the one that activated on the first floor. The Fire Department recommends that people install them on every floor of a home.

Five or six firefighters were injured, though none seriously, officials said.

“Over the last couple days, several other major fires have caused many injuries — some very serious — and displaced others from their homes,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “During the holiday season, we all need to be cautious with decorations, electric lights, candles, space heaters and other items.”

In all, nine people were in the home at 1946 E. 14th St.: a mother and father, their six children and a cousin.

Video from the scene showed fire pouring out of a second-floor window. Neighbors across the street called 911, possibly alerted by the alarm. Firefighters arrived two minutes and 40 seconds later. They confronted a home that was engulfed, Nigro said. Flames quickly overwhelmed the beige home.

“Coming right out the windows, oh my God,” a neighbor, who gave his name only as Albert, said. “Tragedy.”

The Azans are Syrian Jews who immigrated to the United States from Israel about 15 years ago, said Abby, 50, a relative of Aliza Azan who declined to give his last name.

Aliza Azan cooked scrumptious Mediterranean meals for her six children, laughed with her husband’s constant jokes and kept the home a welcoming place for a stream of visitors, he said. The family had moved there only about six months ago.

“She is a very good woman, religious, a very good mom, a sweet, typical mom,” Abby said, looking stricken. Across the street, firefighters shoveled ashes out of the shattered windows of the charred house.

Aliza Azan’s father, Avraham Hamra, is considered the chief rabbi of Syrian Jewry and is said to have helped hundreds of Jews escape to Israel. He lives in Jerusalem, Abby said. Aliza Azan met her husband in Israel.

Yosi Azan is a manager at a nearby clothing store called Hat Box, which sells shirts and shoes, said Avi Navon, 59. Yosi Azan is famous for his friendly service and for always giving his customers deals.

“Always smile, always,” Navon said. “They were hardworking.”

Navon’s son, Moses, 13, said he was friends with some of the Azan children. He described the family as loving, close and spirited. The boys often played basketball in nearby parks. And the children all loved to laugh with their father.

In video recorded by one of the first onlookers at the scene, a photographer who had been monitoring a police scanner, two young men in their early teens were being led away from the burning home as they frantically craned their necks back to look. One wept.

Avi, 20, who said his sister had called 911, said she told him that she watched people leap from a platform outside the second-floor windows.

“Yosi was yelling, wanting to help his family,” Avi said of Yosi Azan, his voice trembling voice as his mother stood beside him with wet eyes. “But couldn’t do nothing.”

Two years ago, seven children were killed nearby when a hot plate warming food for the Sabbath started a fire in a family home.

Yosi Azan had posted about it on Facebook.

“I know the family,” he wrote. “It’s something that is beyond comprehension. Three of the children study with my children. 7 children.”

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