It was just before 10 p.m. Thursday when flames and smoke erupted inside a home on East Hampton Boulevard and 56th Road in Bayside.
"The fire was all over the roof," Abdoul Sylla, the victim's son, told NY1. "It was just so much, so fast."
Most of the eight family members who lived at the house were home when the fire began, including three minors — one as young as 3 — and 59-year-old Ismael Sylla, the head of the household.
Sylla lost both his legs over the years to diabetes. Still, his family said he was able to move from his basement bedroom to the first floor using his arms.
They said he was the first to alert everyone about the fire. For that reason, they assumed he already started to flee as they tried to make their own way out.
"I thought he was already just going to the door. I thought he was already upstairs," Abdoul Sylla said.
It was only when everyone else gathered outside that they realized he was missing. His son said he tried to go back inside to find him.
"I went downstairs to look for my father. There was just too much smoke," he said. "I was yelling for my father; he was not responding back."
When firefighters arrived, they too searched for the 59-year-old native of Guinea. They found him unresponsive in the basement. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
"They said he went to the bathroom instead of just making a right to crawl up the stairs," Abdoul Sylla said.
"You're just overwhelmed, whether it's a stranger on the block or whether it's a next-door neighbor," a neighbor said. "It's the first time that I've been that close to somebody being killed, or being severely injured and dying from that."
A little more than 12 hours later, several family members gathered outside their now uninhabitable rented home. The Red Cross is assisting the family, providing them with a place to sleep for at least the next few days.
While the city medical examiner works to determine an exact cause of death, fire marshals say the blaze was accidental, the result of faulty wiring. They said the home had no smoke alarms.