NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A man is dead, and his husband remained hospitalized Sunday night, after a three-alarm fire broke out in a high-rise fire on the West Side of Manhattan.
The blaze broke out around 11 a.m. Sunday at the Strand condominium apartment building at 500 W. 43rd St., near Tenth Avenue. Flames blasted through the windows after the fire started in apartment 20D the 20th floor of the building, fire officials said.
Flames erupted violently as smoke choked the skies, CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported. Inside the building, fire and especially smoke quickly threatened trapped residents.
Building resident Daniel McClung, 27, was pronounced dead at an area hospital Sunday afternoon after suffering injuries in the fire.
As CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, McClung – a newlywed who lived on the 38th floor of the Strand building with his husband, Michael Cohen – tried to escape. But he was later found unconscious in a 31st floor stairwell.
“That’s unbelievable that it happens. I’m speechless,” said building board president Bill Ragals.
McClung was a playwright and fiction writer who worked with Rattlestick Productions in the West Village. He had just gotten married this past July.
“He was a really, really great young writer, and it’s really disappointing to lose somebody here at that young age,” one friend said.
Officials at NewYork Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center confirmed that Cohen was the second man injured in the fire. He was initially reported in critical condition, but his condition was reported as stable late Sunday.
The flames spread to the two floors above.
By 12:50 p.m., firefighters had brought the fire under control, WCBS 880 reported.
FDNY spokesman Danny Glover said about 40 fire units, and 150 firefighters, responded to the blaze.
WCBS 880’s Jim Smith said the exterior of one side of the building was left blackened leading up eight stories from where the blaze originated.
“And then we heard an explosion so I’m the one with the balcony, so I go to my balcony and I see flames shooting out the doors,” said Berto Antunato, who lives next door to the apartment where the fire broke out.
Antunato told Smith he smelled smoke just before a thick, black smoke filled his apartment. He, his fiancée and his dog retreated to their balcony.
They had tried to get out of their unit, but it was too late. The smoke was just too thick.
“We couldn’t leave,” Antunato said. “They had to put the whole fire out, let all the smoke out before we got out.”
Bryan Silva lives two floors above the fire scene, and was overwhelmed by smoke, as he took a chance to run for his life.
“It was so strong — especially when I opened the first door to the A stairwell — it was just so strong,” Silva said. “I didn’t even know – like, I started to just immediately started coughing. I literally had a feeling that I just wasn’t going to — I thought it was going to be too late.”
Many managed to flee down the stairs – some barefoot – but for those above the 20th floor, the smoke was unforgiving.
“We tried to get out through the stairs. It was full of black smoke,” said Alondra Soroa, who was on duty at the health club on the top of the building. “We couldn’t get out.”
Soroa and fellow health club employee Boyd Olden had nowhere to go but up and outside.
“We had to stand out, outside, on the top floor for about an hour and a half in snow,” Olden said.
Finally, they said, one firefighter managed to reach them.
“One firefighter made it up to help us. He broke all the windows to make sure that we were all right,” Soroa said.
“We’re lucky that we’re alive,” Olden added.
Frank Reynolds was patronizing the health club on the 41st floor when the fire broke out.
“You couldn’t even see the pool,” Reynolds said. “It was just — the whole place was full of smoke.”
He escaped to an outdoor area in just a towel and waited for firefighters to come to the rescue.
“If it wasn’t for the deck, we would have been goners,” Reynolds said, “but they have a sundeck, and it’s big.”
Sal Scarmato, who lives on the 19th floor, said there was screaming in the hallway and someone from the building staff pounded on his door, telling him to get out.
“We just kind of went into ‘let’s go’ and got down the stairs as quickly as possible,” he told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern. “It didn’t really hit us until we got outside and looked up and saw what was going on, and it was pretty scary.”
Scarmato and other residents gathered across the street in a building lobby, where the Red Cross told them there might be too much smoke or water damage for them to return to their apartments right away.
They were warned they might have to be put up in hotels for the night, Stern reported.
“Being two floors under the disaster, we don’t know if there’s going to be major water damage in the apartment when we get there,” said resident John Gorman, “so there’s a lot of question marks as to when we’re going back and what we’re going to find when we get there.”
Gorman said he found out about the fire when a maintenance man pounded on his door, telling him to get out.
Fire officials said it would have been safest for occupants of a building like this to stay inside their apartments.
“Unfortunately, at this fire, it appears that the victims may have originally been in their apartments, safe,” said FDNY Assistant Chief John Sudnik.
The cause of the blaze remained under investigation Sunday night.
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