NEW YORK – A fire ripped through a six-story apartment building in Chinatown early Tuesday, killing one person, injuring 28 others and forcing three people to leap out of windows to safety.
Four building residents were seriously injured in the blaze, including some who jumped from windows on the fifth and sixth floors. Eight firefighters suffered minor injuries.
The Red Cross said 60 families — estimated at more than 200 people — were evacuated from the building and two others nearby and taken to a shelter. The agency was trying to find Mandarin interpreters because many of the residents speak only Chinese.
At its peak, 180 firefighters were deployed in the bitter cold battling the blaze, which started on the second floor at 22 James Street and quickly shot up through the building, said Fire Department Chief of Operations Patrick McNally.
At times, fire could be seen shooting out of the windows while smoke billowed near the roof.
"People were yelling and screaming from the fire escape. They were crying for help," Mary Liu, 29, told the New York Daily News. "One lady jumped out of the building. It was chaos."
Fire officials said three people jumped from windows, but all of them survived.
McNally said the fire was difficult to bring under control because the building — like so many others in Chinatown — is old and because there were strong winds fanning the flames. With the temperature hovering around 22 degrees and wind gusts up to 30 mph, fire officials said water from the hoses was freezing when it hit the ground.
By midmorning, the blaze was under control but the red-brick building was blackened from fire and smoke. McNally said the interior damage was extensive, with the roof and some of the floors partially collapsed. No other buildings were damaged.
The Fire Department was investigating the cause.
Last month, a Buildings Department inspection found "defective/exposed" electrical wiring in ceiling fixtures throughout the building and violations were served, according to city records.
The building is on a short residential street near the Manhattan Bridge in the heart of Chinatown, not far from the main artery Canal Street, where vendors hawk everything from knockoff handbags to live frogs and bootleg DVDs.
Kathleen O'Keefe, a spokeswoman for New York Downtown Hospital, said eight people were brought into the hospital, one child and seven adults. One of the adults, a 32-year-old man, was dead on arrival. Another was in critical condition and was transferred to the burn unit at Weill Cornell Medical Center. Of the remaining six, two were discharged. She did not know the conditions of the other four.
Jacquelyn Gallo told the Daily News she was asleep when the fire broke out. She said she tried to open her windows but they were locked, so she ran into the hallway.
"The smoke was thick. I couldn't see anything. I heard people screaming and crying. I felt the heat of the fire and I started to panic. I thought I was going to die," she said.
Gallo said she went back into her apartment, forced open the windows and climbed on to the fire escape. She said about 15 people were on the roof.
"Everyone was helping everyone," she said. "We climbed on the roof and jumped on the next building. It was about an 8-foot plunge."