FDNY: Careless Use of Open Flame, Candle Caused Blaze at West Side High-Rise

CBS 2 - December 23, 2016

by CBS News

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — FDNY fire marshals have determined careless use of an open flame or candle caused a four-alarm fire at a high-rise building on Manhattan’s West Side.

The fire, which has been deemed accidental, broke out on the third floor of 515 West 59th St. just before 5 p.m. Thursday.

Flames were fanned by winds and quickly grew.

“Around 5:15 the winds started picking up and that’s when it really built up the fire,” witness Roshan Abraham said.

“Everybody was panicking everybody was screaming hoping everyone was OK,” witness Rosann Duncan said.

Smoke barreled through the apartment building that mainly houses Mount Sinai hospital staff.

Fire marshals said a smoke alarm was present, but not operational.

As the fire and thick black smoke spread, Shruti Kulkarni, who was visting her cousin, was stuck inside.

“You open the window and you hear people everywhere scream ‘help, please help,'” Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni and her cousin ducked into a seventh floor apartment where a neighbor was pulling people inside to safety, including a mother and her baby.

“He had wet towels for our faces to help us breathe better with the smoke,” Kulkarni said.

Once inside the apartment, she took to Twitter to document her terror.

“Fire in our building and we are trapped inside on seventh floor. Can’t go downstairs. Smoke in the halls. Please pray for us,” she wrote.

Kulkarni and the other people trapped inside all made it out alive, including a 7-year-old girl who had to be revived by paramedics.

“That female has since been revived and is in as good of condition as you can expect after being in cardiac arrest,” FDNY Chief James Leonard said. “The last we heard she was awake and alert.”

Some people managed to escape injury by climbing to the building’s roof.

“We had nine people on the roof. We had good contact, we could watch them,” Leonard said. “They were safe on the roof.”

Twenty people suffered minor injuries; many have been treated and released. Two people remain hospitalized in critical condition. Four firefighters were also hurt.