Firefighters struggled to extinguish a nagging fire at a Brooklyn warehouse for a second day Sunday, and the city's top fire official estimated that it would take days to declare the site safe.
Smoke billowed from the fire throughout the day Saturday and into Sunday. Firefighters' efforts were initially hampered by freezing temperatures and high winds.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told news reporter Sunday that the boxes of paper records inside the structure continue to fuel the fire.
The amount of paper in the warehouse, which mostly stored health care records, paired with windy conditions that effectively fanned the flames, made the seven-alarm fire on North 11th Street in Williamsburg exceptionally difficult to fight.
"The building is a total loss," Chief of Department James Leonard said at the scene Saturday.
Firefighters believed they had the blaze contained by Saturday afternoon, but an extensive and ongoing operation would be needed to assure the flames did not impact nearby structures, Leonard said.
"This is going to smolder for quite some time," he said. “We’re probably here two to three weeks.”
Health officials warned nearby residents and those downwind of the smoky blaze to stay indoors and keep their windows closed. Elderly people, children and people with respiratory conditions could have a hard time breathing, they said.
One minor injury was reported. A civilian outside the structure suffered from smoke inhalation.
Fire officials were initially called to the warehouse at around 4:30 a.m., and a small fire at the location was declared under control about 40 minutes later, the FDNY said. But at 6:30 a.m., they were called back and found a far more serious fire underway - one extensive enough that firefighters were unable to enter the facility and instead began battling the blaze from outside.
By the afternoon, at least 24,000 gallons of water were being sprayed onto the building every minute and the blaze was declared a seven-alarm fire, meaning some 275 firefighters and emergency medical responders were called to the scene.
The cause of both fires was under investigation, Leonard said.
High winds and freezing temperatures created brutal conditions for firefighters, some of whom were getting doused with water while standing in frigid winds. Some firefighters were covered with icicles.
The warehouse, operated by CitiStorage, primarily stored records for more than 100 health care organizations and law firms, according to Recall Holdings, the parent company of CitiStorage.
"First and foremost, Recall is relieved that no major injuries have been reported as a result of the fire at our Information Center in Brooklyn," company senior vice president Ron McMurtrie said in a news release.
He said the company will investigate the incident and report the status of records to its clients.
New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, one of the warehouse customers, keeps duplicates of vital patient records in electronic form, said spokesman Ian Michaels in a news release. "We do not anticipate that this will affect our operations," he said.