YONKERS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Firefighters in Yonkers battled flames and the weather after a deadly fire broke out in an apartment building early Wednesday morning.
Fierce flames in frigid temperatures created a nightmare of fire and ice in the apartment building facing the Hudson River.
The four-alarm fire broke out on the fifth floor of a six-floor apartment building at 1 Hawley Terrace around 4 a.m., CBS2’s Lou Young reported. Smoke and flames were seen pouring out of windows and the roof.
Fire spread throughout the 56-unit building, destroying apartments from the top down.
Crews commandeered the balcony of a neighboring penthouse to try to slow it down.
The owner, Alan Langer, welcomed many surprise guests just after 3:00 a.m.
“They started to fight the fire in that corner with the hose and this was the best way to get to the top of the building,” he said.
The first priority for first responders was to get the residents out. Roughly 100 tenants were evacuated in the predawn darkness. Some had to be physically carried through a maze of equipment and firetrucks, others scrambled to safety by feeling their way out.
Resident Andre Geraghty told CBS2 he woke to thick smoke filling his fifth-floor apartment. He helped his wife and 16-month-old baby to safety after the fire broke out.
“When I first opened the door, we saw smoke and that’s when I got my family,” Geraghty said. “We checked again at it was completely blocked, so that’s when we went down the fire escape… terrifying and scary but I’m just happy we are safe and most of our neighbors are safe.”
Authorities say one man was killed in the blaze. It’s believed that he’s a fifth-floor tenant who is described as a heavy smoker. Interior firefighters were directed by spotters up on the balcony nextdoor.
An overhead view of the fire showed that over 11-hours after the inferno started, parts of the building were still burning Wednesday afternoon.
“There are still pockets that are not protected from roof covering that are melted and falling on certain areas of fire so we have hose lines in the interior now,” Yonkers Fire Commissioner Robert Sweeney said Wednesday.
Some residents said they did not initially hear the fire alarm, and were woken up by the smoke or by fellow neighbors pounding on the door or ringing their bell.
“We heard someone knocking and saying ‘fire,'” said tenant Rega Jones, who grabbed her daughter and escaped the building. “When we opened the door we couldn’t even breathe.”
“We were coming out and it was just so much smoke, it’s just terrible,” she added.
Icy conditions made the rescue efforts more difficult for responders, who had to navigate especially treacherous roads.
“The fire poses multiple problems, even upon arrival with the piles of snow,” Yonkers Fire Department Chief Chris Fitzpatrick said. “We encountered frozen hydrants, and the hill — it’s icy — and one thing after another made the fire very difficult to fight.”
The fire department confirmed there were some issues with frozen hydrants while battling the blaze.
Displaced residents are temporarily being held at the Police Athletic League building.
The Red Cross is helping more than 20 families find permanent housing.
Crews are currently checking the building for structural stability. CBS2 reports that the victim’s body was removed from the wreckage late Wednesday afternoon, and it appears that he was killed by smoke inhalation. His body had extensive burns, so an autopsy will reveal the exact cause of death.
Authorities preliminarily suspect that the fire was caused by smoking in bed as the investigation continues.