What to Know
- A cause of the blaze remains under investigation
- One of the three buildings that caught fire is damaged beyond repair, but authorities said the other two could be saved
- Residents fled their homes and some were still in their pajamas when the Red Cross arrived at the scene
A 25-year-old man has been identified as the lone person who died when an inferno erupted on the Upper East Side Thursday, devouring three buildings with 20-foot flames and injuring 16 people, many of them firefighters.
Lemmy Thuku lived in a third-floor apartment in one of the buildings consumed when fire broke out on 93rd Street around 3:30 a.m., police said.
Fire marshals continue to investigate a possible cause for the blaze, which took firefighters nearly six hours to get under control. It appears to have started in a first-floor apartment; residents fleeing the fire left a door open, allowing the blaze to spread and grow in intensity, authorities say.
The fire eventually spread to the two adjoining buildings. The fire was so intense after 45 minutes that flames shot 20 feet into the air and embers and smoke fell across surrounding streets.
Lance Hayes, who lives in one of the buildings that caught fire, said someone knocked on his door to warn him.
"When I opened the door, I smelled the flames, so we just got out. When we checked, it was just flaming at the top," Hayes said.
Thuku died in the fire and an 81-year-old man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. Fifteen other people — 11 firefighters and four civilians — suffered minor injuries, officials said.
Fire officials described a harrowing scene as one firefighter worked to rescue the critically injured man. They said the firefighter was able to lower the man down using a rope but that flames coming out the window set the rope ablaze and it burned through just as the two of them reached the ground.
"A few more minutes and it would have been a totally different scenario," an official said.
Officials said the first building was damaged beyond repair but that the two adjoining buildings could be saved. There are about 10 to 20 apartments in each of the three buildings.