Over 250 firefighters and emergency personnel responded around 3:15 p.m. on Friday, the Fire Department said. Neighbors said the fire continued to roar well into the night, forcing dozens to evacuate.
“At the height of this fire, the winds were at their peak and the angle that the wind was hitting this building caused the rapid spread of this fire across the top floor,” Chief Leonard said. The building had extensive fire and water damage, he said.
On Saturday, tenants returned to their neighborhood to stare at the scorched remnants of what had been their home and contemplate their losses.
“I lost everything material-wise but not my life,” Mr. Ortiz said. “We’ll rebuild the rest.”
When he evacuated the building, he took his most precious possession, his United States passport. As Mr. Ortiz stared at the fifth-floor window of his apartment, he spoke of his collection of Latin-American landscape paintings and dozens of history books, all gone.
“Imagine,” Mr. Ortiz said. “We’re hard-working families and now we’re displaced.”
He said he had not yet thought of living arrangements. The building will remain closed as the Buildings Department investigates safety conditions, the Fire Department said.
Mr. Ortiz and 10 other families were relocated by the Red Cross to hotels and shelters on Friday night. Other tenants helped each other find refuge with friends and family. Many were concerned for documents proving their residency.
Aurora Cordero said her second-floor apartment was “probably under water” along with her residency papers. “Look at my eyes,” Ms. Cordero, 57, said. “I haven’t stopped crying. It’s not that we’re attached to our belongings but it hurts to lose everything.”
As they started to navigate their new reality, tenants banded together. About a dozen families met at a community center on Saturday afternoon for legal advice and to discuss how they would move forward.
Outside, Mr. Ortiz trembled as he checked text messages on his phone. He was still wearing the clothes from the day of the fire — a light fleece pullover and green sweatpants. Another tenant approached and gave him a brown shopping bag with a jacket.
“There are some buildings where neighbors see each other and don’t say hi,” Mr. Ortiz said as he looked at the jacket. “But we all know each other. We all share.”
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