New York City, NY Office Building Fire, Feb 1969


New York (AP) -- A flash fire raced through a midtown Fifth Avenue office building Tuesday, killing nine persons and leaving seven more critically burned.
Most of the victims were trapped on the third floor of the five-story building at 48th Street, near Rockefeller Center. Some were jammed in an elevator disabled by the flames and others were piled against a door.
"They were huddled together but you couldn't really see them," said Fireman William Moore.
"You could see a hand here and a head there and you grabbed what you could."
Dozens of others scrambled to safety. They came down smoke-filled stairwells or clambered down aerial ladders while firemen barked orders to prevent panic. Some were carried out by police.
The fire was one of the worst in recent New York history. Rush hour crowds gathered, snarled traffic and slowed some ambulances called to the scene.
The blaze broke out shortly after 4:30 p.m., apparently in the third floor offices of architectural designer David Rosen.
The cause was undetermined, but Fire Chief John T. O'Hagen said some two-gallon cans of a flammable liquid were found on the third floor "and
we have to assume they contributed to it."
"They got it under control very quickly," said Mayor John V. Lindsay, who went to the scene.
"But it was so hot and so explosive and the smoke was so dense that people were overcome very quickly."
Elliott Wilk, 27, a lawyer, was in his fifth-floor office when another attorney received a phone call from someone across the street that their building was on fire.
"The building's on fire; let's get out of here!" the attorney shouted.
"We all ran towards the fire stairway but the smoke was billowing up," Wilks recalled. They turned back.
"Somebody threw something through the window,"
Wilks continued, "and we all began screaming for the firemen. We descended the ladder and thanked God that we were still alive."

Syracuse Herald Journal New York 1969-02-26