NY Daily News - September 03, 2010by Sarah Armaghan and Jonathan Lemire
The intense flames jumped from one store to the next and forced the FDNY to retreat to the street, just moments before the structure's shared roof collapsed in an explosion of wood and steel.
"I thought my apartment was on fire - that's how much smoke there was," said Brenda Harris, who lives two blocks from the burning building at E. 234th St. and White Plains Road.
"I came down to take a look and the fire was real high," said Harris, 48. "I told my family, 'Let's get out!'"
The blaze erupted on the Wakefield block at 12:20 a.m. and raged for more than six hours before more than 200 firefighters managed to put it under control.
At the fire's peak, the flames were so intense that the roof began to buckle.
"The fire started to go through the roof boards and the roof started sagging," said FDNY Assistant Chief James Esposito, who ordered firefighters to battle the blaze from the outside.
One firefighter fell from a ladder and was briefly knocked unconscious, officials said. He and 11 fellow smoke-eaters were treated for minor injuries at area hospitals.
The blaze completely destroyed eight businesses - including Churchill Homes Real Estate, Yankees Nails and a T-Mobile outlet - and damaged several others.
"Everything they worked so hard for is gone," said Sherika Mitchell, 19, who lives in the neighborhood. "All these stores are a part of this community and now they're all gone."
Fire officials said the blaze was suspicious because of the time of night it started. But fire marshals have not found evidence to indicate arson, Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said.
The fire comes just months after another massive blaze swept through a row of stores elsewhere on White Plains Road, but investigators do not think they are linked.
With Barry Paddock