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Massive fire rips through apartment building in Hamilton Heights

HAMILTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan — Nearly 200 firefighters responded to a fast-growing, five-alarm fire that spread through an apartment building in Hamilton Heights late into the evening Friday, sending dark plumes of smoke billowing over northern Manhattan.

The blaze was so devastating to the 100-year-old residential building that FDNY Chief James Leonard fears the structure could collapse.

The fire broke out just after 3 p.m. on the top floor of the occupied six-story building at 565 W. 144th St. near Broadway. The fire was still raging hours later, and has collapsed the roof of the building, which covers a large portion of the city block. Crews are fighting the blaze from ladders and also from the rooftops of adjacent buildings as the fire continues to spread through 42 neighboring units.

Firefighters had a hard time getting an upper hand on the fast-moving blaze as the entire neighborhood has been filled with heavy smoke that has drifted due to strong winds. Many residents were visibly upset as they realized their homes were destroyed.

Nine minor injuries have been reported — seven firefighters, one police officer, and one civilian. The search for residents in the building was called off due to the roof collapse, but no one has been reported missing. Buildings across the street from the fire have been evacuated, also because of the collapse fears.

As of 8:52 a.m. Saturday morning, fire officials said the fire was under control.

Resident Mannaesh Carter was downstairs at a nearby store when he smelled the smoke. He ran upstairs and went door-to-door warning his neighbors.

"I tried to get as many people out as I could, I started banging on doors and just screaming 'fire fire,'" Carter said. "My cat is gone, all my clothes, all the papers, gotta start all over."

Kathleen Carter, another resident, said this is the second time in two years she has been displaced from a fire. At least 40 families have been displaced and are being assisted by the Red Cross.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Kathleen Carter said. "I have to start from scratch."

Witnesses took to social media as black smoke could be seen from miles away. People in the area say sections of the building's façade are falling to the street. Police are urging everyone to stay away from the area.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.