UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS — Nearly 170 firefighters battled a blaze that engulfed four University Avenue businesses Wednesday morning — sending a thick plume of smoke wafting over the neighborhood, FDNY spokesmen said.
The flames erupted inside a 99-cent store at 1959 University Ave., near West 179th Street, about 5:30 a.m., an FDNY spokesman said.
It then spread to other stores on the commercial strip including a pizzeria, a grocery store and a laundromat, sending flames shooting out of the stores, officials said.
Firefighters were on the scene within three minutes of being called, an FDNY spokesman said.
"They started breaking down the store gates with their axes," said Yudelfi Martinez, 22, who was passing by when the fire started.
"Fire started shooting out from the stores. There were flames everywhere. They were bright orange and smoke was coming up. They had the hoses out and were running all over."
A thick cloud of smoke could be seen from blocks away and made it difficult to breathe near the shops.
No injuries were immediately reported, officials said.