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HAMILTON HEIGHTS (PIX11) – A raging inferno in an upper Manhattan apartment building left families running for their lives.  Firefighters had a tough time dealing not only with the intense flames, but the sweltering heat and humidity as well.

The fire broke out shortly before four p.m. in the corner top floor apartment at 520 West 139th Street in Hamilton Heights, near City College.  The flames spread rapidily, consuming  apartment 65 and leapfrogged to other units on he 6th floor.  When the first units arrived, the entire top floor was engulfed in flames.

Only a few of the 41 families that live in the building were home at the time, and they raced for safety, unable to grab any of their possessions.

79-year-old Vidal Cabrera and his family have lived in the building for 20 years. With his son interpreting, he told me the fire began in the master bedroom of his apartment. His daughter saw the flames and rushed to tell her father. Fire quickly engulfed the apartment and Cabrera managed to get out in time.

As the fire raged, additional units were called in—-and the blaze quickly went to 5 alarms, involving 44 units and some 200 firefighters.  Flames shot from  windows burning several firefighters on the hand.  in all 19 firefighters suffered  burns or heat exhaustion, but none was considered serious.  One resident of the building sustained minor injuries and refused treatment.

Temperatures in the 80s, made the job of fighting this fire more difficult.  Asst Chief James Manahan said the size of the building and the fact that firefighters had to haul hoses up six flights made the job of fighting the fire more challenging.

Onlookers gawked as hoses stretched across the streets…they watched from fire escapes as aerial ladders pumped water into the building.  The sheer exhaustion was evident on the faces of the firefighters …some of the had to be lowered to the ground in the bucket.

Solbi Cruz, here husband, 4 children and mother lived next door to the apartment where fire started.  She told PIX 11 that she lost everything and quite obviously was devastated.  But she was grateful that everyone was safe.

Sofia Rodas apartment is on the 4th floor. She escaped the flames, but she stood on the corner praying that her home wasnt destroyed by water. Red Cross workers were on the scene to comfort families and to find them temporary shelter.  Many spent the night in nearby P.S.192.  While it will be up to fire marshals to determine the exact cause of the fire, Vidal Cabrera’s son believes it was an overloaded electrical outlet that ignited it.