NEW YORK (AP) - A five-alarm fire officials said was started by
careless smoking displaced more 200 tenants as it quickly spread
through a seven-story apartment building in Harlem early Tuesday
morning.
Three residents, including a 104-year-old woman, sustained minor
injuries in the blaze at 92 Morningside Ave., between 122nd and
123rd streets, said Fire Department spokesman Anthony Liscio. Some
10 firefighters also were injured, most suffering from burns and
contusions.
The fire erupted at 1:45 a.m. and was "caused by careless
smoking," Liscio said.
"It quickly spread to floors above through an air and light
shaft," he said. "The entire building is uninhabitable from water
and fire damage."
Oly Osorio, a 49-year-old postal worker who lived on the third
floor, sat on a playground bench across the street from the
building, which had housed 78 apartment units and now stood charred
and gutted.
"I'm thinking about what I'm going to do, where I'm going to
go, where I'm going to sleep tonight, where's the next change of
clothes," said Osorio.
But she said she was happy that everyone in the building made it
out alive. "I thank the Lord that we're all here talking about it.
We can start again."
Osorio said she heard a neighbor scream, "help, fire" in the
middle of the night. Osorio ran outside and saw the "redness of
the flames," and called the Fire Department.
All the residents were able to evacuate the building before the
fire spread.
Meanwhile, City Councilman Bill Perkins, whose district covers
the area of the fire, said that Engine 36, one of the first
companies to respond, was on the list of firehouses targeted for
closure by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"This incident just demonstrates the severity of budget cuts
and how they will affect every community," Perkins said.
Bloomberg responded that "the fact of the matter is we just
don't have enough money to continue with every service and the
firehouses that we have suggested closing are all firehouses where
there's another one very close by ... I've looked the senior chiefs
in the eye and they have assured me that the safety of the public
is not going to be impaired."
Red Cross spokeswoman Carolyn Coffey said 230 people had
registered with the agency seeking some kind of assistance,
including temporary housing.
All through the night, the Red Cross distributed coffee and
blankets and set up a temporary shelter at a nearby school.
Moe Scott, 29, who lived on the sixth floor, woke up when he
smelled smoke and heard commotion in the building. He said he
escaped through a neighbor's fire escape.
"I lost everything: birth certificates, passport, money,
clothes, everything I ever worked for is gone. The only thing I
have left are the clothes on my back," he said.
About a dozen dogs and cats were taken to the Center for Animal
Care and Control because their owners were displaced by the fire
and could no longer care for them, said Carolyn Daly, a spokeswoman
for the organization.
Daly said the pets were being treated for smoke inhalation and
minor burns while the group tried to find them new homes.
Some 200 firefighters from 44 fire companies fought the blaze,
which was brought under control at 8:38 a.m.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)