The FDNY said that the apartment had a smoke alarm that was not operational

By Rachel DeSantis
November 23, 2020 11:05 AM
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Malaika and Warnette James
Warnette and Malaika James
| Credit: GoFundMe

A mother and her daughter were killed in an early morning fire that ripped through their New York City apartment on Sunday, authorities said.

Warnette James, 68, and her daughter Malaika, 37, died in the blaze, which began in the kitchen of their Washington Heights apartment in Manhattan, WCBS reported.

A spokesperson for the New York Fire Department tells PEOPLE that 20 units and 78 firefighters were dispatched to the apartment on Audubon Avenue shortly after midnight, and that it took about an hour to get the fire under control.

“It’s very hard for me because both of the people I’ve had my whole life aren’t with me anymore,” Imani James, Warnette’s daughter and Malaika’s sister, told WCBS.

She said her mother worked as a pharmacist and psychologist, and told the New York Daily News that her sister worked at a law office.

“My mom was one of the smartest, funniest people I knew,” she told the News. “My sister, she was a great person. She was on the spectrum but she excelled in everything she did.”

Both women reportedly died at a local hospital of smoke inhalation.

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According to the FDNY, fire marshals determined that the fire was accidental, and the cause was electrical. A smoke alarm was present in the apartment, but was not operational.

“I’m sad because I’m thinking about all the things my mom won’t see me do,” Imani James, 30, told WCBS. “I wanted her to see my first movie. I wanted her to see my first book when I published it and now I guess she can’t. She’s my person and I can’t let her down by giving up.”

A GoFundMe page organized by a neighbor is currently raising money to cover the cost of damages, hospital and funeral expenses.

“We are devastated by the sudden loss of our beloved neighbors Warnette and Malaika, who tragically lost their lives during an apartment fire,” the page reads.