By Stephanie Apstein and Zach Schonbrun
HIGHBRIDGE — A three-alarm fire tore through the top three floors of a six-story apartment building in the southeast Bronx on Friday afternoon. Four firefighters and two bystanders sustained minor injuries, but all the tenants were safely evacuated.
The fire quickly escalated from a two to three-alarm blaze due to the 90-degree heat and need for relief.
“It was hot,” said one firefighter who was in the building and declined to be named. “By the time we got here, it was roaring.”
Deputy Chief James J. Nichols said the cause of the fire is officially under investigation. “We think it’s accidental,” he said. “We think it’s electrical.”
The fire began on the fifth floor at approximately 3:30 p.m. at 1504 Sheridan Ave., a large grey-brick residential complex across the street from William Taft High School. FDNY Ladder Company 44 was the first to respond, followed by Ladder Company 49.
Because the building is large and the main entrance was far from the site of the fire, firefighters had to thread their hoses both through the lower levels of three adjacent buildings and also across the roof. The flames were extinguished in about 45 minutes.
Jason Monegro, 20, was the first to call 911 after he saw flames leaping from an electrical outlet near the television in his aunt’s fifth-floor apartment. He was doing laundry in the kitchen when his Yorkshire terrier, Bam-Bam, began barking and running back and forth.
“I saw smoke coming out of my cousin’s bedroom,” Monegro said. “And then I saw the crib catch on fire.”
Monegro said he poured a bucket of water on the fire, but when that had no effect he called 911.
“Everybody got out, thank god,” Monegro said.
The manager of Juhysa Beauty Salon on the building’s ground floor also called 911 when he noticed flames coming out of the windows on the fifth floor.
“I ran along the street and yelled up to the windows, ‘Fire! Fire!’” said Areliz Rodriguez.
Outside, throngs of bystanders crowded around the building, even as pieces of charred debris fell onto the street. Monegro, who was shirtless and barefoot, fielded questions from police, reporters and then dumbfounded family members as they slowly arrived on the scene. Monegro said glumly that his family had lived in the building for over 50 years.
“I don’t know,” Monegro said, when asked what he plans to do now. “I guess we’ll stay with relatives and see what the damage is.”
The building’s new superintendent, Juan Rosa, said he was working on the fourth floor when he heard the smoke alarms and saw the whole fifth floor filled with smoke.
“I was knocking and banging on the doors trying to get everyone out,” Rosa said when reached by telephone. “Now we’re picking up the mess.”
The entire length of the first floor was soaked with water from the firefighters’ hoses. From the ground, onlookers could see blue sky through the windows of some burnt-out sixth-floor apartments — an indication that the roof had collapsed.
Pamela Wright, a resident on the third floor, was not in her apartment at the time of the fire but arrived shortly thereafter. She was relieved to find out her apartment was not damaged.
“My granddaughter came and told me about it,” Wright said. “I was worried about my cat and my other stuff. It hasn’t really set in yet.”