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Fire tears through roof of Hamilton Heights apartment building, 10 injured, dozens displaced

Burninge house, upper part

Ten people, mostly firefighters, suffered minor injuries as a five-alarm fire tore through the top floor and roof of an apartment building overnight in Hamilton Heights.The fire started at around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, when most people who live there were fast asleep, CBS2’s Christina Fan reported.

Firefighters spent hours battling heavy flames on top of the six-story apartment complex on West 141st Street and Broadway. Families grabbed what they could before making a quick escape. 

“We have a sound machine on when we sleep and so it wasn’t until like 20 minutes after everything started. I smelled smoke and I opened the door and saw firefighters running down our hallway, and I got my husband up and got our cats into their carriers, and got our backpacks on and got out,” one woman said. 

About 200 firefighters and EMTs responded, but the flames quickly spread through the cockloft and reduced the top floors to rubble. 

“It didn’t take that long for it to spread from one side of the building to the other. So I’m assuming probably because it’s windy outside and what kind of fire it was probably also factored in as well. But in my whole time living here I’ve never seen a fire like this before. This was pretty bad,” said neighbor Jesse Liriano. 

About an hour before the fire started, a neighbor reportedly called 911 to report smoke on the sixth floor. Yahaira Paulina, president of the tenant’s association, said the firefighters who responded left without finding the source. 

“They investigated, they didn’t find anything. They didn’t break or move anything, they just turned off the breaker,” said Paulina. 

The FDNY confirmed they received a call just before midnight. The incident was closed out at 12:32 a.m. after a thorough investigation and no visible signs of smoke or fire, officials said. 

“I think if they had done better due diligence at the first try, then possibly it wouldn’t have had an hour to spread the way it spread,” said Paulina. 

According to the FDNY, eight firefighters and two tenants suffered minor injures. Officials said every floor was likely damaged to some extent. 

“Fire damage is limited to that top floor but of course we use a lot of water to put out these fires and there will be water damage throughout,” said FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens. 

Displaced families said the Red Cross is helping them find temporary accommodations.

“In total, we’ve assisted about 119 people,” Red Cross response manager Doran Bercovici told CBS2’s Jessi Mitchell.

The Red Cross spent all Saturday at P.S. 192 helping the 41 displaced families sort through the next steps, surviving tragedy to start again.

“It’s a very traumatic time, and we want to be there continuing the recovery. Today was just step one of how we can assist them,” Bercovici.

The Red Cross helped 10 families find hotel rooms. The rest settled in with family and friends.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu released a statement saying in part:

“Our team is onsite at a nearby school working in collaboration with the Office of Emergency Management, Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and the Red Cross to ensure that every resident who was impacted by this tragedy has housing tonight and the days ahead before HPD is able to secure longer term housing. We are in communication with the Mayor’s office and we are committed to working with our partners to make sure every person impacted has access to the resources and supplies they need.

“In the coming days our office will be hosting a clothing drive to support families who were impacted by this tragedy. We are so inspired by our community’s resilience and strength as we work together to provide support for those affected by the fire.”

As for the building, inspectors are checking to see if it is still structurally sound. 

FDNY fire marshals say the fire was caused by electrical wiring in the ceiling of the top floor.