The patriarch of a Bronx family, the pleas of his dying children ringing in his ears, tried desperately to pull them from the flames engulfing their home.
Waleed Saleh, 41, recalled the screams of relatives trapped inside the early Sunday inferno before he and his wife’s rescue efforts were repelled by the flames and thick smoke billowing from their two-story Castle Hill home in the darkness before sunrise.
“We tried to go back,” Saleh told the Daily News hours after Wednesday’s funerals for the four young victims. “A lot of smoke, and we couldn’t see … I tried to save my kids. It broke my heart. I cannot save them. I do my best.”
The 41-year-old Yemeni immigrant recounted hearing the last anguished calls of his trapped family. “All of my kids were awake, [shouting] ‘Help me! Help me! I’m burned! I’m burned!’”
Three of Saleh’s four sons perished in the raging blaze. His 5-year-old boy was saved by his wife and a next-door neighbor who pulled mother and son to safety after she pounded on his second-floor window from their balcony.
“He is the only one that has survived,” Saleh said. His son Ahmed, 22, and Ahmed’s younger siblings Kalheed, 10, and Mohamed, 12, died along with Ahmad’s 10-month-old daughter Barah.
The baby girl’s mother, Areej Saleh, suffered burns to her hands and nose and remains hospitalized. She faces a long recovery after breaking her back in a plunge from the burning home. Ahmed Saleh smashed a window to save his wife Areej, her father told The News.
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The flames tore quickly through the two-story brick house on Quimby Ave. around 6 a.m., with stunned neighbors awakened by the wails of family members inside the home. Three firefighters were also injured.
The cause of the blaze remained under investigation, although a source told The News the fire was likely accidental and electrical.
Weeping mourners packed a Brooklyn Islamic center for a wrenching Wednesday service remembering the family members, with the tiny casket holding the youngest victim carried inside by hand.
The Saleh family loss was also felt in Morrisania, the Bronx, where their store, Kings Deli on Third Ave near E. 169th St., has been a fixture for more than a decade.
Community members have gathered at the shop — where the Salehs generously allowed people to shop on credit — to pay their respects to people customers say were fair to everyone.
Saleh said his wife is fighting a lingering cough in the tragedy’s aftermath but remains reluctant to get medical help in the hospital where their son Ahmed died with his daughter.
“I tried to take her to Jacobi [Medical Center],” he said. “But she doesn’t want to go inside.”
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