Emergency personnel from the New York City Fire Department provide medical aid as they respond to an apartment building fire in the Bronx borough of New York City Jan. 9. Pope Francis sent his condolences to families of the 17 people killed in the fire. (CNS photo/Lloyd Mitchell, Reuters)
Emergency personnel from the New York City Fire Department provide medical aid as they respond to an apartment building fire in the Bronx borough of New York City Jan. 9. Pope Francis sent his condolences to families of the 17 people killed in the fire. (CNS photo/Lloyd Mitchell, Reuters)
WASHINGTON — Pope Francis issued condolences to families of those killed in a Jan. 9 apartment building blaze in the Bronx that killed 17 people, including eight children.

Initially, city officials said the death toll was 19 people and nine children, but they revised this figure the afternoon of Jan. 10.

In a Jan. 10 telegram to Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the archdiocese where the apartment building is located, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said: "His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the recent devastating fire in the Bronx in which a number of children lost their lives."

"In offering heartfelt condolences and the assurance of his spiritual closeness to those affected by this tragedy, he entrusts the victims and their families to the merciful love of almighty God and invokes upon all consolation and strength in the Lord," the telegram said.

The five-alarm fire injured more than 60 others, with dozens going to hospitals in critical condition. More than 200 firefighters responded to the blaze in the 19-story building.

Cardinal Dolan planned to visit the site Jan. 10 and tweeted: "It doesn't get worse than what we witnessed in New York yesterday at that tragic fire in the Bronx. I'm visiting the scene with the fire companies that responded so that I might see how the church can assist. Thank God for the @FDNY."

St. Simon Stock-St. Joseph Parish, which serves the Bronx neighborhood where the apartment building is located, was celebrating a special Mass the evening of Jan. 10 for the deceased and all affected by the tragedy. New York's Auxiliary Bishop Peter J. Byrne was expected to attend.

Carmelite Father Michael Kissane, parish pastor, reported the church is located one block from the apartment building. The apartment complex was home to a large number of Gambian immigrants, many of whom are Muslims. Only one registered family from the parish lived in the building -- and that family was displaced because of the fire.

An early indication was that a space heater may have set off the fire in the 120-unit building. New York City Fire Commissioner Louis Nigro said victims were found "on every floor, in stairways."

The building, Twin Parks North West, was built in 1972. One person who escaped the fire said it had interior stairways, but no exterior fire escapes.

It was the second U.S. apartment fire in less than a week that claimed double-digit casualties. A dozen fatalities were reported from a Philadelphia apartment fire Jan. 5, eight of them children.