Flaming debris poured down on the residents of Benziger Ave. in New Brighton as they ran outside to save their lives and feared for their beloved pets.
The six-alarm blaze started at about 6:10 p.m. in a three-story house on Benziger near Jersey St. and then quickly spread. Within minutes, the entire roof of the house was consumed in a soup of bright orange blaze and thick smoke. The flames quickly jumped to the rooftops of neighboring houses on either side. “My puppies are upstairs, and Lola is missing,” said Sara Vila, 22, who lives two doors down from where the blaze began.
Moments later, firefighters presented her with a bowl full of newborn pups. But Lola, her pet Yorkie-bulldog mix, hadn’t been found.
In all, 21 people, 17 of them firefighters, suffered injuries, most of them minor, officials said. One civilian and one firefighter suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.
“The firehouse was right around the corner. We were here in two minutes. When we got here, there were three houses on fire,” said FDNY Chief of Department James Leonard said.
Two houses collapsed, a third was in danger of collapsing, and four more were damaged, Leonard said.
“There was extreme fire, extreme smoke and extreme heat. It was very debilitating for our firefighters,” Leonard said.
“It looks like we’re going to be here for a couple of days working,” he added.
The cause of the blaze remains under investigation
“The whole house was one big flame,” said Christina Gallo, who lives in the same building as Vila. She had to run upstairs to rescue Sonny, her shih tzu.
“It was spreading from one house to another. The wires above were popping and fire was falling down around us,” Gallo said.
Red Cross representatives said they’re offering help to 42 people displaced by the blaze. Diane Phillips, 63, an artist who works under the name CricketDiane, said she and three other adults, including her two grown children, as well as three grandchildren, had to run for their lives before their house collapsed.
“It started in the house next door. The whole top porch was aflame. Flaming debris was falling on us,” she said. “It’s my whole life. My art is gone. Everything is gone.”
As she spoke, she sobbed and held a long-haired calico cat named Robin in her arms. Her other cat, Batman, is still missing.