Fire in the Sky!

Manhattan and Brooklyn get the honors for the first 5 alarm fires of 1997. In both blazes flames could be seen for miles.

The Manhattan fire began at approximately 2:30 P.M. in the ASCAP building at 20 West 64 Street; A.K.A. 1 Lincoln Plaza.The hi-rise apartment building is 42 stories tall and has 600 units within it.

A halogen lamp in the apartment of legendary jazz musician Lionel Hampton fell over, breaking the extremely hot glass tube, and set fire to his bed. The mattress was aflame several minutes before anyone in the apartment had realized from where the burning odor originated. By the time he evacuated his apartment the 28th floor hallway was filled with dark smoke, blocking residents from making it to the stairs.

As fire companies approached the scene, smoke was billowing from the windows on the 28th floor. Panic stricken residents trapped above the fire floor were hanging from their windows in an attempt to attract the attention of firefighters. They were using articles of clothing and towels to make white flags that they hung from window sills.

Within minutes the fire was raging from the windows of apartment 28K. Many people claimed it looked like it was straight out of "The Towering Inferno."

From the street firefighters noticed 2 women at a 28th floor window. They had open the window in preparation for jumping to the ground. While members below motioned for them to stay, 2 firefighters went to the apartment above them on the 29th floor. Firefighter O'Keefe lowered FF Sussina by rope to the women's window; almost 300 feet above the ground. Next, O2 masks were brought down, and the women waited with FF Sussina for some 40 minutes. The fire was brought under control and all 3 walked out together.

Song and dance man turned actor Ben Vereen also lives in the building.

The Brooklyn fire started on the roof of Jetro Cash & Carry; a wholesale grocery warehouse located at 538 East 99 Street in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. At this time it is believed that the fire was started by workers on the roof, but that has not been confirmed by fire marshals.

Fire raced across the entire roof area of the 1 story 100x150 structure. After burning for close to an hour, the fire started dropping down to the ground floor level; igniting the building contents.

Within minutes a serious brand problem touched off numerous brush fires in the immediate area. The biggest of which forced NYC Transit to shut down the BMT "L" line subway that runs at grade level behind the fire building. Several homes were also threatened, but quick action kept the flames at bay.

In the warehouse, workers using hi-lo's were employed to move around stock. While they were doing that, a rag baling warehouse, exposure 2 to Jetro, also caught fire from free flying brands. A 4th and 5th alarm soon followed.

Water supply was a problem due to the remoteness of the buildings. Both buildings are set back approximately 50 yards from the street. Long stretches were required, and incoming units were directed to find hydrants along the main drag as they approached the scene.

This stubborn fire took over 4 hours to bring under control, and required extensive overhauling. As I sit here and type this, 24 hours after the fire began, companies are still being sent to the scene every 3 hours for watchline duty.