A 3-year-old boy's screams alerted his mother that a fire had erupted in their first-floor apartment Thursday night.
Thierno Diallo, 59, a security guard originally from Conakry, Guinea, who lives in a ground floor apartment said he was asleep when he heard banging on the door.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro has called the fire "historic in its magnitude" because of the number of lives lost.
December was the worst month of fire in New York City in a decade, Nigro said.
Excluding 9/11, Thursday's fire was the city's deadliest since 87 people were killed at a social club in the same Bronx neighborhood in 1990. He said the kitchen exploded into flames so quickly the mother had little time to do anything other than grab her children and leave.
Among the dead were at least three members of the same family Karen Francis, 37, Charmela Francis, 7, and Kylie Francis, 2.
The child and his mother escaped their burning first-floor apartment. He emphasized that young children should not be left unattended, and those fleeing apartment fires should always shut doors behind them once the last person is out.
Private Mensah was found in Apartment 15, his uncle said, but he lived in Apartment 11, with a friend of his father's who was at home with his wife and four children. "He just came for the holidays", he said.
Soldier Emmanuel Mensah, 28, is believed to be among the dead, his father Kwabena Mensah told CNN.
He never emerged; the authorities said he died of smoke inhalation.
The NYPD, FDNY, city Office of Emergency Managment, Bronx Borough President's Office and Mayor's Office were conducting a cloathing and coat drive for those affected by the fire at Church of Saint Martin of Tours on Crotona Avenue from 9 a.m.to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
"The stairway acted like a chimney", the fire commissioner said. "Those that tried, a few of them perished".
"I'm relieved I'm alive, but at the same time, it's like, where do I go?" the 40-year-old said.
The American Red Cross set up an aid station for survivors at a local high school, providing food, blankets, and other support, including temporary housing, to the displaced.
"It's the time of year where people celebrate and certainly here, we have people who have lost their lives, lost their homes, lost everything, and we grieve with them".
The management company for the building's owner, D&E Equities, said it was talking to city officials and was "shocked and saddened" by the deaths and injuries.
"Our prayers and thoughts are with the families that were affected", he said.
"We've lost so many people".
Tenants of the building, a mix of native New Yorkers and Latino and African immigrants, scrambled down fire escapes. "When you see something like this happen, it reminds us how precious life is".