Five-Alarm Fire Tears Through Chinatown Building

NY 1 - January 25, 2020

Five-Alarm Fire Tears Through Chinatown Building, Potentially Destroying Historic Documents By Lindsay Tuchman and Alyssa Paolicelli Manhattan PUBLISHED 6:03 AM ET Jan. 24, 2020 UPDATED 6:36 PM ET Jan. 24, 2020

Almost 24 hours later, city firefighters were still working Friday to put out the flames that tore through a building in Chinatown, potentially destroying tens of thousands of historic documents. "I saw the flames that were bursting out from the window," one witness said. "It was really intimidating."

The five-alarm fire broke out shortly before 9 p.m. Thursday at a building located at 70 Mulberry Street.

As of 6 p.m. Friday, the city fire department was still hosing down the five-story building.

A representative from the Museum of Chinese in America, one group that is located in the building, said the group was told the building was structurally unsound. The city buildings department said a vacate order was issued for the location.

Officials said the blaze started on the fourth floor and quickly spread to the fifth floor and the roof area, which partially collapsed.

A 59-year-old man was rescued from the fifth floor and was treated for smoke inhalation, according to authorities. Eight firefighters also suffered minor injuries.

The FDNY said due to the 120-year-old building's construction, it was difficult to access the fifth floor, leaving firefighters to battle the flames from outside.

"We have a deep-seeded fire in the roof area, difficult to access, we're going to be operating here probably a good part of today, it will be an extended operation," FDNY Chief of Operations Tom Richardson said Friday. "We were able to do complete searches from the basement up to the fourth floor, and we were not able, due to the structural condition and the fire condition, to do the searches on the fifth floor. The person that we removed from the fifth floor indicated that no one else was in the building that he was aware of."

The historic building is home to many local businesses and non-profits, including a dance school, a senior community center, and it holds some archives from the Museum of Chinese in America, to which officials say there is likely significant water damage.

"We have 85,000 items in there — artifacts — not only telling the story of Chinatown, but telling the story of Chinese immigration to this country," said Nancy Yao Maasbach, the president of the Museum of Chinese in America. "So we're distraught, and we're trying to get in there as soon as we can so we can try and preserve as much as we can as quickly as possible."

Luckily, representatives from the museum said, more than half of the artifacts have been digitally archived.

This fire broke out just days before the Lunar New Year, when Chinatown is expected to be filled with thousands of people celebrating.

"It really hits home for a lot of us because everyone knows someone that has a connection to this building," said Jan Lee, of Neighbors United Below Canal.