Missing tenant in Hamilton Heights fire found in North Carolina

By ADAM SCHRADER and THOMAS TRACY
Published in the New York Daily News on Nov. 18, 2017

A missing tenant who was feared dead after a massive blaze tore through the top of a Hamilton Heights building has been found, authorities said Saturday.

The fire on W. 144th St. and Broadway was finally put out just before 9 a.m. Saturday — 18 hours after it began, FDNY officials said.

Firefighters were grimly sifting through what’s left of the sixth floor to search for a tenant who was unaccounted for Saturday morning, FDNY Chief of Department James Leonard said.

But that person was later tracked to North Carolina, according to police.

Investigators collected surveillance footage from the two stores anchoring the building as the probe into the fire’s cause continued. The blaze is not believed to be suspicious, an FDNY spokesman said.

The Department of Buildings and the FDNY are expected to perform a “controlled demolition” of parts of the upper floor in the next few days. The roof collapsed into the sixth floor, most of which was completely destroyed.

The fire did not spread below the fifth floor, but there is water damage throughout the building, residents said.

“You could see water pouring into the deli below all last night,” said tenant Jake McCready, who lives on the fourth floor. “The building is not structurally safe for anybody to go in.”

McCready, 25, moved into the building a year and a half ago. He said he left his apartment about 15 minutes before the fire started.

As the fire burned throughout the night he watched updates on the television news.

“I turned on the TV and I watched my house burn,” he said. “I still don’t think it really hit me.

“It’s not about me, though I did lose everything I had,” he added. “It’s about the families who’ve lived here for years and years. There are families that have been living there for 40 years.”

One tenant, a cop and seven firefighters suffered minor injuries that ranged from smoke inhalation to bruises and muscle strains.

More than 40 families were forced out of their homes, officials said. Eleven were placed in Red Cross shelters.

Friday’s high winds fueled the out-of-control blaze.

“At the height of the fire the wind was at its peak,” Leonard said. “The wind hit the building at a specific angle which caused the rapid spread of the fire.”

“(The building) couldn’t have been in a worse position for the wind,” he added.

Most of the residents self-evacuated, officials said. Firefighters rescued a cat from the fifth floor and a dog from a first-floor apartment and reunited the pet with the overjoyed owner.

With ROSS KEITH

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