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Fire At Inwood Building, Terror Target In 1970, Leaves 12 Firefighters Injured

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(credit: Kathryn Brown/CBS 2)

(credit: Kathryn Brown/CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Twelve firefighters were treated for what non life-threatening injuries after battling an early-morning fire at a two-story home on West 217th Street in Inwood. It took 140 firefighters from over 36 units nearly two hours to get the blaze under control at the home that was once a terror target.

Residents who were home at the time say they heard what sounded like fireworks and then saw sparks shooting outside their windows. Investigators believe a gas leak in a manhole may have started the fire.

CBS 2’s Lou Young spoke with residents in the neighborhood.

“It shook the bed. It shook the whole building,” said neighbor Steve Staplemen.

“I heard screams and jumped out of bed and by the time I got to my terrace, it was completely engulfed in flames,” said neighbor Cole Thompson.

“It was very dangerous. It was advanced fires on multiple floors,” said Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Saccente. “But the guys did a fantastic job.”

The house is subdivided on one side into apartments.  Everyone got out alive, just like back in 1970 when explosions shook the building.

“It’s a little strange to smell the same smell I smelled as a kid,”  said John Murtaugh.

Murtaugh was 9-years-old when the building was attacked back in 1970.  His late father was a federal judge, an apparent target of radical terrorists called the Weather Underground.

“Bombs were on that windowsill and they opened up that garage door down on the left and then tucked in a bomb under the car on the gas tank,” he said.

“It was similar, in that it happened at 2 0’clock in the morning.  The first thing I remember is my mother grabbing me and running down the stairs,” Murtaugh added.

The neighborhood is well aware of the story of how two heroes used pieces of a snowman to douse the flames before the car’s gas tank blew.

“Neighbors literally took the snowman apart and tossed pieces of snow into the car to keep it from exploding,” said Thompson.

This one house experienced two explosions four decades apart. Asked if the house may be unlucky, evacuee
Yvonne Rivera answered: “No, I think it’s lucky because no one died.”

Con Ed  and the fire marshals are still trying to figure out what went wrong.  The house is gutted one side but probably salvagable.

Dramatic video of the blaze was uploaded to YouTube.

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