Mother, 94, and son die from injuries in Washington Heights e-bike blaze, bringing NYC death toll from battery fires to 7

·2 min read

A 94-year-old Washington Heights matriarch and her son died Monday from injuries suffered in a fast-moving e-bike fire in the family’s Manhattan apartment over the weekend, fire officials said Tuesday.

The deaths of Bertha Domenech Santiago and her son, Luis, mark the sixth and seventh fatalities caused by the ignition of lithium-ion batteries — used for electric bikes, scooters and hoverboards — surpassing the number of fire deaths from 2022, according to the FDNY.

A home health aide who attended to the elderly woman and an unidentified male tenant were also injured after the batteries caught fire in Santiago’s fourth-floor apartment on W. 190th St. just before 1 p.m. Sunday, neighbors and officials said.

A dozen units and 75 firefighters brought the fire under control about an hour later, officials said.

“Firefighters responded to the scene of a heavily involved fire in Washington Heights. Four people were removed from that fire and critically injured. It was fast-moving and extremely disruptive,” FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said.

“Unfortunately and tragically, two of those people have since died and two others remain in extremely critical condition and we’re continuing to pray for their recoveries today.”

Several lithium-ion batteries were found around the apartment by fire investigators, she said.

Luis Rosario, 31, an electrician who grew up on the block with Santiago and her son, described her as a neighborhood fixture.

“I’ve known her ever since I was born,” he said. “She was the neighborhood grandma. She was extremely loving.”

He said that in more recent years, as she advanced in age, she was less visible in the neighborhood. She wore braces on her legs and hands, he said, to cope with a health condition.

“She used to be out here with her little dog, Nikita,” Rosario said. “She used to give us two bucks to walk her little chihuahua. That was our first hustle. She babysitted all of us. She was famous all over the block.”

Rosario, who lives in the building where the fire happened, said that the midday fire shattered the quiet Sunday in Washington Heights.

“There was an explosion and you felt everything shook,” Rosario said. “It happened so fast.”

Another neighbor, Sev Maldonado, said that he saw EMS workers trying to resuscitate the four victims.

“The firefighters brought all the four people out on stretchers,” said Maldonado, a restaurant worker who lives on the floor below the fire. “EMTs were performing CPR on all of them. None of them were responding. It was scary. I never saw anything like it.”

Early Tuesday, a suspicious fire killed a Brooklyn mom and her 18-year-old girl daughter in their apartment building and her three younger children were critically injured. Police declared the deaths to be homicides.

Later that morning, a 70-year-old woman was killed in a Bronx apartment building blaze.