UPDATE – Details on the mayday at 2033 86th Street in Bensonhurst early this morning in excerpts from an article by Robert D. McFadden of The New York Times:
Battling intense heat and smoke with streams of water from a tangle of fire engines on 86th Street, a commercial thoroughfare, firefighters finally got into the building at 3:30 a.m., an hour after their arrival. During the ensuing search of dark rooms crowded with furniture, it became apparent that structural timbers weakened by the fire were in danger of collapse.
One firefighter fell through the ground floor and became entangled in basement timbers. He was soon pulled out, but fire officials then ordered all firefighters out of the building. Shortly after the evacuation order, the interior of the building collapsed.
“They pulled them out because the roof was about to collapse,” a fire official said. “They saw that the integrity of the floor was in jeopardy, so as a precaution they pulled everyone out.”
Commissioner Cassano gave a similar account. “You have a huge hole in the floor, the stairway was burning,” he said. “We had to move them out. The firefighters that were here did their best to rescue as many people as they could.”
More from the AP:
A fire that tore through a Brooklyn building that housed mostly Guatemalan immigrants and killed at least five people on Saturday may have been intentionally set, a fire official said.
The early morning blaze is being investigated as a possible case of arson because it started behind the door of the first-floor entrance to the building, New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said.
“That’s not where a fire would normally start,” Cassano said after surveying the devastation of the fire, which trapped residents and caused part of the roof to collapse.
Four people in the building were injured, including an infant and a child who were tossed out the window by a woman frantically trying to save them. The infant was in critical condition with a fractured skull after bystanders below failed to catch him, officials and witnesses said. The other child landed on an awning.
At least one adult was hospitalized, and 13 firefighters were injured, none of them seriously, officials said.
The fire started around 2:30 a.m in the Bensonhurst neighborhood, home to a diverse population of Italians, Russians, Hispanics and Chinese. The flames quickly engulfed the three-story building on a busy commercial strip, consuming a ground-floor Japanese restaurant and two apartments on the upper floors.
The stairwell between the floors collapsed, as well as part of the roof, trapping residents, according to fire officials.
Most of the building’s residents were from Guatemala, neighbor Juan Gabriel told The New York Times.
As the fire raged, a woman held a baby boy out a third-floor window. Bars covered the lower half of the window, keeping the woman from climbing out, Gabriel said.
“She was screaming, ‘Help me, help me,’ ” Gabriel said. Moments later, she threw the infant out the window to Gabriel and two other men.
In the darkness, the child fell to the ground, authorities said. She then tossed another child out the window. He landed on the awning below.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the woman survived the fire.