SUNNYSIDE, Queens — Firefighters, police officers and utility workers are expected to remain in place well into Thursday night, and possibly into Friday morning, at the scene of a massive fire that left at least 12 people injured. The blaze also completely destroyed a row of businesses here, and caused a roof collapse and explosion that left more than a half dozen firefighters in need of medical attention.
The fire broke out at 2:14 a.m. Thursday in a row of businesses on Queens Boulevard and 45th Street, according to FDNY officials. By the time the blaze was fully involved, nearly 200 emergency personnel had been called to the scene. It was a five-alarm blaze.
"It started spreading. It just kept going. Before, you couldn't even breathe on this block," a witness told PIX11.
There was a very scary moment in the first hour or so of the FDNY response. As a group of firefighters emerged from one of the storefronts, a loud explosion erupted and a large fireball blew. It resulted in a smoke cloud that enveloped many of the firefighters who'd just come out of the storefront. Some of them were knocked down by the explosion's impact.
The explosion apparently also caused a roof collapse. The situation left seven firefighters injured, none seriously.
It was the result of a backdraft scenario, according to the commanding fire chief on scene. A backdraft occurs when fire and smoke remove all oxygen, and then, suddenly, when oxygen somehow gets reintroduced, there's an explosion.
Firefighters were able to save 12 businesses on 46th Street, adjacent to the ones that were total losses. An apartment building that's next to the destroyed businesses was protected by firefighters using hose lines.
Gabby Goldstein lives in that apartment building, on the second floor. She said that the fire didn't seem like a real threat to her home at first. The firefighting activity woke her up in the middle of the night, but she was trying to go back to sleep, when she was jolted.
"I heard the explosion, and it was terrifying," Goldstein told PIX11 News. "So we left. We evacuated at that moment, of course."
She'd been able to get back into her apartment on Thursday afternoon to retrieve some belongings, but said that she won't be able to stay there until Friday, even though everything's intact.
As late as Thursday evening, 15 hours after the fire broke out, firefighters were still putting water on occasional flareups of smoke rising from the row of businesses.
One of those business, the Romantic Depot, a sex shop, had only opened in October. Another of the businesses, Sidetracks, a popular restaurant and bar, had been renovated fairly recently.
"We're a small community," said Monica Lynch, who lives nearby. "This has a large impact."
Despite the destruction, however, many local residents were expressing gratitude.
They were appreciative that firefighters had stopped the fire from spreading more extensively, and that the injuries to the first responders, and to civilians, had not been serious.
There was a total of 12 injuries, including seven firefighters and five civilians.