NY Times - May 14, 2011by ANAHAD O'CONNOR
The fire began shortly after 9 p.m. at 16 Covert Street, in a three-story row house with furnished rooms occupied primarily by older men, neighbors said. The blaze grew rapidly, gutting the top floor of the row-house, spreading to at least three other buildings and blanketing the street in a haze of smoke.
Firefighters arrived within minutes and had to fight through "heavy, heavy fire" just to get through the front door of the building, said Frank Dwyer, a Fire Department spokesman. Flames shot out of every window in the back of the building, and poured through several windows in the front.
As smoke filled the street, neighbors stepped outside of their homes and saw an entire top corner of 16 Covert in flames.
"The fire was going so fast, it was climbing the walls," said Kyle Thiede, 23, who smelled the smoke from his basement apartment nearby and began banging on doors to evacuate neighbors. "It was leapfrogging to the buildings next door."
Firefighters eventually found the bodies of two adult men, one who died inside one of the rooms and another who either jumped or fell from a window, the Fire Department said. Both were pronounced dead at the scene, the authorities said.
One of the victims was identified as Gregory Atkinson, 45, by his brother Gary Atkinson.
Mr. Atkinson grew up on the block, his brother said, and was well-liked.
"He liked to help people," Gary Atkinson said. "If he saw someone needed something, he'd give them his last."
The authorities said it was unclear how the fire had started.
Harry Goff, 73, said that he was inside when the fire began but that because he has poor sight he did not realize its severity until he got out onto the sidewalk.
"I smelled the smoke," he said. "I felt the heat. I kept moving."
Friends and neighbors of Gregory Atkinson, who knew him as Jiggs, said he had lived on the street for decades.
"He was a staple on this block," said a neighbor, Will McNair, 27. "He's been here longer than I've been alive. Everybody liked him."
Other neighbors said that Mr. Atkinson and other men from the building were known to sit outside in nice weather and play cards or dominoes. Carolina Almont, 35, a dance instructor, said Mr. Atkinson would always greet her and give her help with her grocery bags.
"He never let a woman walk around with a heavy bag," she said.
Ms. Almont said that on one occasion he alerted her that her fox terrier had escaped while she was out. Later, he helped her find the dog.
Of all the men who lived in the building, Ms. Almont said, Mr. Atkinson was "the most pleasant, the most polite."
Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.