What to Know
- FDNY investigators still haven't been able to access a Queens apartment building where an eight-alarm inferno broke out Tuesday, displacing 90 families and injuring at least 21 people
- While a cause remains under investigation, fire officials believe the blaze started in a top floor apartment and the tenant left the door open while fleeing, allowing the flames to spread
- It took hundreds of firefighters and nearly 12 hours to contain the blaze; the last hotspots were finally extinguished around midnight
Authorities are still trying to ascertain what caused a rare eight-alarm inferno at a Queens apartment building Tuesday, one that displaced about 90 families and hurt nearly two dozen people, including firefighters, officials said Wednesday.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a morning news briefing fire marshals hadn't even yet been able to access the Jackson Heights building, on 34th Avenue between 89th and 90th streets, because of the extensive fire damage.
Nigro said it appears the fire started on the top floor of the building, which has more than 100 apartments, and that the resident of the apartment where it may have started apparently left the door open while fleeing the flames. That enabled the blaze to spread rampantly, devouring home after home, officials say.
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It took hundreds of firefighters and nearly 12 hours to contain the blaze, though by late Wednesday morning it was still not considered fully under control. Nigro said tenants smelled smoke for about 10 minutes before they started to call 911, which allowed the blaze more time to grow. Some people heard smoke detectors going off in the building and still waited to call emergency help, he added.
Nigro described that 10 minute- delay as an "eternity" in the realm of firefighting.
The FDNY first got a report of the fire shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday, officials have said. The fire continued to intensify and became an eight-alarm inferno by 6 p.m. About 350 firefighters and first responders were still battling the flames into the overnight hours. The last hotspots were extinguished around midnight.
Images from Chopper 4 showed a cloud of dark smoke billowing from the building as bystanders struggled to shield their faces from the smoke.
As of early Wednesday, at least 21 people were said to have been hurt, including 16 firefighters and five civilians. The victims are expected to be OK.
The Red Cross is assisting the families who were displayed by the blaze. One displaced tenant is a woman who lives in a garden-level apartment.
She told News 4 Wednesday that when she first saw smoke, she thought it was steam from her shower. She ended up fleeing through a window, leaving her kitten behind. That kitten is now missing -- and her home is ruined, she said.
"It's absolute terrifying. It's probably the worst thing that's ever happened in my life," said Lisa Bradshaw.
Neighbors on Wednesday gathered across the street from the building to hold a donation drive to help those who lost everything in the fire.
The community donated clothing, toys, toiletries and even face masks. A local business, Latino Bites, parked its food truck outside the building and provided hot meals, free of charge.