BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Police are looking for a city corrections officer they believe started a fast-moving fire that hurt eleven people, four critically, in a Chauncey Street apartment building Thursday morning, NYPD sources said.
The unidentified woman used to live in the building and had a rocky relationship with a man who was also a former tenant, neighbors and sources said. Police believe she used a flammable chemical to start the fire, according to sources.
About 100 firefighters raced to the fire, which started in a hallway, as it engulfed two floors of 375 Chauncey St., near Howard Avenue, about 9:15 a.m., an FDNY spokeswoman said.
Four people were critically injured, a fire spokesman said. Two others were hospitalized in serious condition and five others were treated for minor injuries, he added.
Witnesses said they saw a suspicious person lurking near the building before the fire who had been at the building several times over the past month looking for a man who no longer lived there.
Neighbors said the woman first turned up a few months ago, looking for a former tenant known only as "Spud" and trying to get into his old apartment.
"All you heard was banging like someone was kicking in the door," said Shanell Dukes, 18.
The current tenants of the apartment, a couple, told Dukes that the woman returned twice.
"Then they said she came back last night and she was trying to get in the building, but she couldn't get in," Dukes said.
A neighborhood superintendent, Derick Hamilton, was across the street Thursday morning with a friend when he saw the growing flames through the glass of the building's glass door.
"It was blazing inside. We ran to the windows and started knocking on the windows and screaming, 'Fire, fire, fire!'" said Hamilton, 62.
One first-floor tenant shoved an air conditioning unit from her window and Hamilton helped her and her children climb out.
Another first-floor tenant, 16-year-old Bria Suttle, heard Hamilton's cries for help and fled with her family but without her dogs, Prince and Brownie.
"We ran through the back and climbed through the window and all of our neighbors were there," she said.
Firefighters found Suttle's dogs unharmed once they brought the blaze under control about 10 a.m., officials and witnesses said.
Every unit in the building was damaged in the blaze, a fire official said.
The Red Cross responded to the fire to assess if any tenants needed emergency housing.
Fire marshals were investigating the cause of the fire.
Additional reporting by Aidan Gardiner.