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Massive East Harlem Fire Leaves Six Injured

By  Chelsia Rose Marcius Alan Neuhauser and Wil Cruz | July 12, 2012 9:34am | Updated on July 12, 2012 2:31pm

More than 130 firefighters responded to an early-morning blaze at a house in Dongan Hills, the FDNY said.
More than 130 firefighters responded to an early-morning blaze at a house in Dongan Hills, the FDNY said.
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DNAinfo/Chelsia Rose Marcius

EAST HARLEM — A raging fire tore through the top floor of an East 116th Street building and left six people, including three firefighters, injured Thursday morning, the FDNY said.

The massive blaze broke out about 8:50 a.m. in a cluttered sixth-floor apartment at 242 E. 116th St., sources said.

The fire quickly spread to other units on the floor, forcing a frantic evacuation, officials said.

"I was going down the staircase slamming on people's doors, telling them to get out," said Joanna Delapena, 25, who lives on the fifth floor. "As soon as we got out, the apartment burst into flames.

More than 130 firefighters battled the blaze for nearly an hour before it was brought under control, an FDNY spokeswoman said.

"It was kind of like they were shooting a movie," said Elizabeth Fruciano, 25, whose family lives on the fourth-floor, describing the fiery scene.

Three firefighters and three residents of the building were injured, fire officials said. Five of the victims were taken to local hospitals in stable condition.

One firefighter was in serious condition at New York Hospital, officials said. His injuries were not life-threatening, a spokeswoman said.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

But a source said the fire jumped to a third-alarm in part because the apartment in which it sparked was cluttered.

"It makes it that much harder to go in there and search for people and get to where the fire is when there is junk throughout the house," the source said.

Roberto Bravo, 26, said his mom, Alma Garcia, lives in apartment 24 — where the fire started — with two siblings and a roommate.

"She has some things, but not that much," he said.

But Delapena said Garcia kept a lot of toys left over from when her 4-year-old son was a baby.

"She...still has things like a stroller from when he was a baby," Delapena said. "I've been over and it's hard to walk two steps inside."

The DOB has not received any complaints about hoarding in that unit, a spokeswoman said. Inspectors determined that the building was structurally stable, but four suffered "severe" fire damange and were temporarily unhabitable, she said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the American Red Cross in Greater New York said the affected apartments were homes to 13 adults and nine children. 

"Four families have taken us up on our offer of emergency housing and funds for food and clothing," said Michael de Vulpillieres, the Red Cross spokesman.

Fruciano said the devastating fire is particularly crushing for many of the poor tenants in the building.

"These are immigrant families who work to survive," Fruciano added. "What they have in their apartment is everything they own."