Second Huge Fire Breaks Out in Washington Heights in Three Days

By Nigel ChiwayaTrevor Kapp and Aidan Gardiner  on January 25, 2013 7:01am  | Updated on January 25, 2013 2:47pm

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Firefighters braved freezing conditions to battle a blaze that tore through a West 188th Street apartment building Friday morning, two days after a nearby building was decimated by another fire, officials said.

Five people, including four firefighters, were injured when Friday's fire sparked inside of 564 West 188th St., near St. Nicholas Avenue, about 4:30 a.m., an FDNY spokesman said.

The blaze started on the second floor of the building when an overloaded extension cord caught fire, fire marshals said. The family in the apartment plugged a fridge, television and space heater into a power strip, which was then plugged into the extension cord. The fire then spread from the cord to a bed, the FDNY said.

"We heard the sound of the explosion," said Max Garcia, who was in the bodega where he works on the ground floor of the building. "We came out and saw a lot of fire."

Fire officials believe the blaze spread up and down through the building's apartments before engulfing the bodega.

When firefighters arrived minutes later, they found the building covered in flames and smoke.

"I heard the sirens and I came out and I saw big smoke," said Usman Ibrahim, who works across the street from the scorched building. "There was a lot of fire, a lot of smoke. You couldn't see anything."

The inferno forced residents of the building to seek safety on the fire escapes.

"The flames were big," said Carmen Cedeño. "People were running and were on the fire escape. People were screaming.

"It was panic," she added.

The five victims were taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital, a fire spokesman said.

The firefighters were treated for minor injuries, but another victim was seriously hurt, the spokesman said. That person is expected to recover, he added.

The temperature in the area was approximately 15 degrees at the time of the fire, according to The Weather Channel's website. Battling blazes in freezing conditions can be especially tricky because water flowing out of fire hoses can create puddles of ice, causing firefighters to slip, the FDNY spokesman said.

Firefighters brought the flames under control about 6 a.m., according to the FDNY.

The blaze left four of the building's apartments completely uninhabitable, said Brian Lewis, who works for the building's management company, Bronx-based Langsam Properties.

"The big damage was confined to the apartment where the fire started," Lewis said. "But there's still a lot of damage. Several apartments were vacated. It started on that second floor and just shot up."

Langsam added that gas service remained turned on in the half of the building unaffected by the fire.

This is the second fire to scorch a Washington Heights building this week. An inferno engulfed an Amsterdam Avenue apartment building on Wednesday night.

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