At least 12 people are dead and several others left seriously injured after a massive fire broke out at a Bronx apartment in New York on Thursday (28 December) night local time. Nearly 170 firefighters are at the scene trying to bring the blaze under control at the five-storey walk-up apartment house.

A witness from the scene says one father was screaming "my babies are dead, my babies are dead" as he ran into the complex. "A father ran into the building, he couldn't get in," Xanral Collins told the New York Post. "I saw him screaming."

At least one toddler aged about a year is thought to be among the dead while identities of other victims are yet to emerge. Mayor Bill de Blasio is en route to the site. His spokesman, Eric Philips, wrote on Twitter about the death toll, "Will be more. Horrible. Fire Commissioner on scene. Mayor here shortly."

"This is the worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city – it will rank as one of the worst losses in a fire in many years," said the mayor.

Five victims died at the scene and others were declared dead when brought to the hospital. It is still unclear what caused the apartment fire, which quickly raged through the residential facility. Firefighters managed to rescue at least 15 people from the site.

Rescue personnel were battling severe cold and icy conditions as they are on the emergency operation.

New York Bronx fire
New York Fire Department ladder trucks deploy at a building fire in the Bronx borough of New York City, New York Handout via Reuters