FLATBUSH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) – The cause of Saturday’s five-alarm fire at a Brooklyn apartment building remains unclear after officials discovered the body of an elderly woman who died in the flames.
The fire, which official said started on the fourth floor, lit up the night sky for hours as strong winds fueled the flames and more than 200 firefighters battled to extinguish the fire on East 29th Street in Flatbush.
“The conditions made it extremely difficult. They would do anything they could to get down those hallways. But they were unable to. It was the wind. It was bad,” Deputy Fire Chief Steven Morrow said.
A fire department spokesman told the Associated Press at least 20 firefighters were injured while fighting the blaze, but none of the injuries were life-threatening. Four civilians also suffered minor injuries.
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs reports on the fire
The spokesman also said the body of a 64-year-old woman was found in the rubble in one of the top floors.
“We had numerous calls for people who were trapped in the building. We did the best we could in getting to everybody. She was in an area that was impossible for us to get to at that time since we couldn’t get past the fifth floor,” Morrow said.
LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg on residents’ reactions
“It’s crazy. They bashed through all the windows. People were coming out fire escapes in their night clothes. I still see flames. I’ve never seen anything like this.” One woman said.
More than 100 residents ran out of the burning building, leaving most of their clothes and personal possessions behind.
“It’s funny when these things happen. You don’t realize what should we take. We just grabbed our coats and luckily we got out when we did cause we got to the stairs. It was black smoke and all the dirty water was coming down the stairs and we couldn’t even hardly get out the door because the hose was blocking it,” resident Celeste Bent said.
Colleen Bobby opened up her doors to some of the apartment’s residents and even though she didn’t lose anything, she still sympathizes with the families.
“Just to lose everything, it hurts. I cried because you can’t believe it. Your whole life is gone in just a couple of minutes,” she said.
LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck reports
The seven-story building has more than 70 apartments and Saturday’s weather only worsened the flames, creating what fire officials described as a blowtorch effect.
“It seems to be the wind here. It looks like the fire department was unsure where it was. At first they were on the left side of the building, then they were on the right side,” said Kelsey Carraway, who watched from across the street.
“As you can see, fire has engulfed the whole house. It’s unbelievable. I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” Isaac Dunkel said.
Bent and her family have lived in the building for 38 years, and now like many of their neighbors are out on the cold streets with only the clothes on their backs.
“We’ll talk to the Red Cross. I guess they’ll put us up and see what happens,” Bent said.
Red Cross officials said 42 adults and 11 children registered for their services at a nearby school where residents could get immediate needs such as food and beverages, mental health support and more.
“All of these individuals received emergency housing at local hotels. Those affected are expected meet one-on-one with Red Cross caseworkers in the coming days to receive further emergency services and support,” according to a Red Cross release.
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)