NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Some 300 firefighters are battling a massive fire in Hamilton Heights.
The six-alarm fire broke out at around 3:14 p.m. in a six-story building on West 144th Street and was still going hours later.
“The first start easy then it grows big and big, everybody run outside,” a man who works across the street told 1010 WINS’ Holli Haerr.
The fire grew rapidly and firefighters, from 40 different units, were ordered off the roof of the building.
“They started screaming all over the place, ‘it’s a fire, a fire.’ So I just took my family out, that’s it,” Carlos Ramirez told CBS2’s Andrea Grymes.
Flaming chunks of debris could be seen falling from the top of the building.
As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, firefighters were making progress as winds started to die down.
“Upon arrival we found very heavy fire conditions on the top floor. It was a wind driven fire that rapidly pushed the fire into the top floor, into the cockloft area which is the space between the top floor ceiling and the underside of the roof,” FDNY Chief of Department, James Leonard said.
The blaze quickly spread.
Residents said the fire started in 6E. They helped each other evacuate, and began evacuating pets until a firefighter intervened saying it was too dangerous to continue.
“We evacuated buildings across the street, the building to the rear and both sides of 144 are evacuated. We were afraid, we still are, we were afraid of the building collapsing,” Leonard said.
Firefighters made sure residents got out and rescued animals too. Members from Ladder 47 saved a dog from a first floor apartment.
Monroe Roundtree from the third floor was able to evacuate himself and his pets.
“I grabbed the dogs and we got out when they told us to get out,” he said.
One woman made it out with her 5-year-old grandson.
“I had somebody to carry him downstairs. I was so nervous I was afraid I was going to drop him,” she said.
Her cat did not.
“I thought about getting the kitten, but I said, ‘no, it’s probably not that big.’ And my cat is still in the house,” she said.
As firefighters battled the blaze, thick black smoke was being replaced by grayer smoke and bright red flames appeared to die down.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s gas related because there would have been a huge explosion,” resident Jose Tavarez said. “I’m not even worried about the building itself, I’m worried about the people that live there. These things can be replaced, material things, but a human life can’t.”
Residents were unsure of what they would do in the future, but they were thankful to firefighters who rushed to the scene.
As the blaze burned, they sat in a restaurant across the street pondering their future.
“A lot of tenants there have been for over 20 years, and to just see everything go up in flames, it’s heartbreaking,” Minerva Read said.
They watched as firefighters tried to salvage their homes.
“I don’t know what to think. I was just like making sure first that my family was okay, making sure my neighbors were okay,” she said.
The building did have a violation for “effects in the facade of the building.” There was no word if a repair had been made.
There were nine injuries reported, seven to firefighters, one to a cop, and one to a civilian — all were described as minor.