One man was killed and 16 people were hurt, one of them with life-threatening injuries, in a fire that overtook three Upper East Side apartment buildings and sent flames shooting 20 feet into the air on Thursday morning, officials said.
Firefighters got the blaze under control shortly before 8 a.m. — nearly six hours after it started. Residents said they were awoken by people shouting "fire" in the street and others who were pounding on doors.
The blaze broke out around 3:30 a.m. and quickly overtook the upper part of the 93rd Street building. It eventually spread to the two adjoining buildings. The fire was so intense after 45 minutes that flames shot 20 feet into the air and embers and smoke fell across surrounding streets.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Lance Hayes, who lives in one of the buildings that caught fire, said someone knocked on his door to warn him.
"When I opened the door, I smelled the flames, so we just got out. When we checked, it was just flaming at the top," Hayes said.
Larry Garvin is a 12-year resident of the building that first caught fire. He said he was concerned about a man on the fifth floor who is in his mid-to-late 80s.
"I thought of him when I came out, but there was no way that I could get up there," Garvin said.
A man who lived in one of the buildings was killed and an 81-year-old man was hospitalized with life-threatening. Fifteen other people — 11 firefighters and four civilians — suffered minor injuries, officials said.
Fire officials described a harrowing scene as one firefighter worked to rescue the critically injured man. They said the firefighter was able to lower the man down using a rope but that flames coming out the window set the rope ablaze and it burned through just as the two of them reached the ground.
"A few more minutes and it would have been a totally different scenario," an official said.
Officials said the first building was damaged beyond repair but that the two adjoining buildings could be saved. There are about 10 to 20 apartments in each of the three buildings.
Matt Bonaccorso streamed the fire live on Periscope from across the street. The video shows flames pouring out of the top of the building as chunks of debris fall to the ground below. Firefighters can be heard shouting to one another as the scene unfolds.
“You can feel the heat from here,” Bonaccorso says on the livestream.
A woman who lives over on 92nd Street said that she left her apartment after she heard a loud pounding.
"I saw flames going out the window and everything, and I was like 'Thank God I left.' You could see the embers landing on the roof of my building and smoke and everything. Really scary," she said.
Erica Rosenthal lives a block away and said she was awoken by the smell of smoke. When she looked out her window, the building nearby was ablaze.
"The entire building was engulfed, you could hear the fire," she said. "I was standing at my window and could feel the heat."
The Red Cross arrived on the scene around 5 a.m. as groups of people stood by covered in blankets. It's believed that one of the buildings houses both apartments and a bed and breakfast. The organization said it was assisting nearly two dozen people early Thursday.
Parts of First and Second avenues were closed to traffic and it was difficult for motorists to get around in the area as dawn broke. Officials said drivers should expect extensive delays on the FDR Drive in both directions. Subway service was also affected; northbound B and C trains were bypassing the Museum of Natural History stop, causing delays on the blue and orange lines.