SOUNDVIEW — A one-armed man and his wife tossed a pair of babies from a second-floor balcony into the waiting arms of neighbors as a fast-moving fire swept through their Bronx home Monday morning, the man told DNAinfo New York.
The fire at 1126 Taylor Ave. near Watson Avenue hurt 12 people, two critically, the FDNY said.
Fidel Morales, 54, who lost an arm and a leg in a childhood accident, was sleeping in his second-floor apartment in the building when he smelled smoke about 4:15 a.m., he said from his hospital bed Monday night.
Morales, who works for the Department of Corrections as a civilian clerk in the Manhattan Criminal Court, woke up his wife, Diomares Morales, 42, and the pair hurried their 1 1/2-year-old son, Abel Morales, onto the balcony, he said.
"It was smoky and dark. l couldn't breathe," he said. "I lost my son and wife for a minute. I reached into the dark and grabbed [my wife's] hair. I told her to take a deep breath and I grabbed my baby and said, 'Let's go.'"
On the ground below, Wilgem Herasme, 34, had just escaped from the first-floor apartment with his wife, Niurka Grullon, 37, and their 14-year-old daughters Ashley and Kairy, and Genesis, 13.
"I saw the family on the balcony crying. I was saying, 'Gimme, gimme, gimme. Let him go,'" said Herasme.
Herasme also caught tiny Hilary Perdomo, the 20-day-old baby of Diomares' niece Vanessa Perez, 27, who live in the apartment, he said. Firefighters rescued Perez and another relative, who was only identified as Nixie.
"When I was holding my baby over the rail, he was holding on to the bottom of the railing," Morales said. "He looked at me like, 'Papi, no' and I said, 'You've got to get out.' And I dropped him."
Herasme, a grocery store owner, said he caught Morales' baby son and niece first.
"The neighbor, he's a hero," Herasme said. "He caught my baby. I love that man."
Leaving his prosthetic arm behind, Morales then tried to lower himself from the balcony and jump.
"The man was hanging onto the balcony with one hand. He came down on top of me, and we both fell to the floor," said Herasme. "He was screaming, 'Help, help, help' the whole time.'"
Morales suffered sprains to the left knee, shoulder, arm and foot.
"I landed on my good leg," he said.
He was taken to Jacobi Medical Center, where he was expected to stay overnight, a coworker said. A relative said his wife and son were expected to be released from the hospital Monday afternoon and stay in a hotel.
"My baby boy is just fine. He's a strong boy," he said.
Herasme's wife and daughters were also being treated in hyperbaric oxygen chambers at the hospital, where they were expected to remain overnight, he said.
Franciane Valmont, 50, who lives next door to the fire building, witnessed the rescue.
"The neighbors caught the baby and passed it to me," she said. "Soon after, they dropped a second baby. They were both in their pajamas. But they weren’t crying. The [man and woman] were screaming though."
Morales, who lost his arm and leg at the age of 12 when he accidentally touched a high-voltage wire while playing baseball, was struggling with his brush with disaster.
"I lost everything," he said.
Diomares Morales' son Robert Santana, 20, said Monday his mother was still having difficulty breathing because of smoke inhalation. She was still shaking from the escape, he said, but was relieved everyone survived.
"She said it's not easy to lose your house," he said.
Herasme's 19-year-old stepson, Meldrick Fernandez, who was in the basement when the flames erupted, was treated at Jacobi and released later that morning, his father said.
"I woked to the sound of glass breaking," he said. "I saw flames as soon as I woke up. I ran upstairs to get my stepfather."
Flames from a candle in the building's basement apartment started the fire, the FDNY said.
Meldrick said he had not lit a candle and was not aware of any candle burning in the basement before he went to sleep.
Taylor Avenue residents got a scare about 4 p.m. Monday when a second fire broke out — this time in a sewer grate.
"I saw flames billowing out of there about as high as a foot," neighbor Frank Strongbow said. "You begin to wonder, will we have a quiet sleep tonight or will something else spring up and hit us in the face again?"
That fire was extinguished quickly, according to the FDNY.
The fires Monday came on the heels of a Bronx blaze that killed three brothers and injured 10 other people in High Bridge Friday night.
The fire Friday was also ignited by a candle, which was inside the kitchen, according to the FDNY.