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Seven Die In Harlem High-Rise Fire

March 23, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ Bystanders screamed ″Don’t jump 3/8″ as a young girl and her two brothers, their clothes on fire, leaped 33 floors to their death during a blaze that roared up the trash chute of an apartment house, killing four others.

And, in Dallas, five people, three of them children, died when fire swept through a two-story housing project apartment Sunday night.

Sprinklers that could have stopped the New York fire early Sunday apparently had been shut off, said Fire Commissioner Joseph Spinnato. In addition, a standpipe valve at the base of the 35-story Harlem high-rise was broken, officials said.

″If the systems had been working properly, this wouldn’t have happened,″ said Fire Department Chief Robert Butler.

The blaze, which injured 30 people and was at first thought to be confined to the basement, raced to the top floors, killing Martha Jenkins, 43, in her 33rd-floor apartment and trapping and killing three people in the apartment above, fire officials said.

Seventh-floor resident Eurika Young said she heard screams of ″Help me 3/8 Help me 3/8″ before Mrs. Jenkins’ children, Stanley, 23; Robbin, 18, and their sister, Dwana, 12, leaped to their deaths.

″They were burning and nobody would help and they just jumped,″ she said.

″Everybody was screaming, ‘Don’t jump 3/8 Don’t jump 3/8’ but they didn’t have a choice,″ an unidentified woman who had run to the scene from her apartment two blocks away told The New York Times.

Spinnato said the siblings’ bodies ″were sufficiently burned to the point where it would cause people to opt to jump.″

″The panic is overwhelming, you just can’t fathom it,″ said Fire Department spokesman Lt. Frank Martinez. ″It’s overwhelming pain, panic. It just separates the body from the brain and there’s no rational thinking.″

Leroy Cary said he and his roommate jumped from their 25th floor apartment to a terrace one flight below because of heavy smoke in the hall. There they prayed with a screaming woman with two babies in her arms, he said.

He said he saw what he thought were burning curtains drop in front of them and did not realize until the objects hit the pavement that they were bodies.

In the apartment above the Jenkinses’, firefighters found the bodies of Clementine Grensham, 46, Charles Grensham, 28, and Harriet Wynn, 45, officials said. It was not immediately known how they were related.

The fire, reported shortly before 8 a.m., may have been started by a cigarette that ignited trash wedged in the two-foot-square chute, Martinez said.

Firefighters initially responded to a report of a fire in a basement trash compactor and were at the scene for about 20 minutes before discovering the blaze on the upper floors, authorities said.

″The fire started somewhere in the chute. The chute acted like a draft, causing the fire to spread,″ said Spinnato.

Fire officials said the blaze should have been extinguished in its earliest stages by sprinklers at every other floor along the chute. The city requires sprinklers throughout the chute, and investigators were trying to determine why they were not working,the commissioner said.

The city also requires smoke detectors in every apartment, but inspectors had not found the devices in the debris where the victims died, Martinez said.

Four families were left homeless by the fire, said Charlie Ridgeway of the Red Cross.

Three of the injured were being held for observation, hospital officials said. The others were either treated at hospitals or at the scene, officials said.

The Dallas blaze apparently began about 11:15 p.m. in the first-floor living room of a Turner Court apartment, trapping the victims upstairs, where they succumbed to smoke inhalation, officials said.

The dead were identified as Linda Hudson, 19; her 2-year-old daughter, Shaquitha; two nieces, Alicia Michelle Hudson, 8, and Naomi Hudson, 15 months; and Willie James Jones, 35, a family friend.

Eula Rae Hudson, Linda Hudson’s mother, escaped unhurt and tried to warn others to flee the apartment, said Sheila Clay, a neighbor.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, fire officials said.

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