Hundreds of people were forced out into the cold after plumbers working on pipes with a blow torch sparked a fire at their Long Island apartment complex Thursday, authorities said.
The fire broke out in a second-floor apartment of the six-story complex on Terrace Avenue in Hempstead shortly after 1:30 p.m. and rapidly spread to the roof, according to Michael Uttaro, assistant chief of the Nassau County Fire Marshal's Office.
The complex was evacuated, and many residents were seen standing outside in 18 degree-weather as firefighters from at least six departments tackled the flames. About 50 of the more than 400 units in the nearly 305,000 square foot-building were destroyed, Uttaro said.
Video from the scene showed thick black smoke billowing into the air as firefighters on ladders tried to contain the blaze from the roof. Strong winds complicated their efforts, authorities said.
A mother of two told NBC 4 New York she got a call about the fire at work and rushed over. As she stood watching the building burn, she said she hoped most of her belongings could be salvaged.
Two residents had minor injuries related to smoke inhalation, authorities said. At least one dog was rescued.
The Red Cross was assisting the displaced. The organization says it's opened a relief shelter at Hempstead High School, where it expects 70 to 100 displaced residents to sleep Thursday night.