The Chinatown building where a seven-alarm blaze started has a history of violations, including several for a broken boiler, records show.
It took more four hours and 250 firefighters to battle the fire, which broke out just after 10 p.m. Sunday at 283 Grand St., a six-story building with 16 apartments. Three civilians and 30 firefighters suffered minor injuries, and more than 200 people were left homeless.
The flames quickly spread to several neighboring buildings and around the block to Eldridge St.
"There was a lot of smoke and then they [firefighters] told us to come out of the window onto the ladder," said Anna Li, who lives on the top floor of 283 Grand. "It was scary. My legs were shaking."
The FDNY was still putting out pockets of flame on the block on Monday morning.
Dinine Signorelle-Wong, 50, escaped with her sister-in-law, two young children - and her 21-year-old cat, Pepper.
"I lost everything else: my children's photo albums, my wedding pictures, my grandma's jewelry and my grandfather's Purple Heart. It's devastating," said Signorelle-Wong, who lives at 91 Eldridge St.
The owner of 283 Grand St. is listed as Fair Only Real Estate Corp., based in Flushing, Queens. The company was slapped with at least nine violations in the past two years, including several for a broken boiler and at least five for obstructed passageways.
Fair Only has a small office on Grand St., between Eldridge and Allen Sts., above a textile store. A woman there who would not give her name confirmed she worked for the owner of 283 and 285 Grand but would not identify him. She said he had owned the buildings for at least 40 years. She declined to answer questions.
Fire officials said the blaze reached a rare seven alarms after it spread to neighboring buildings.
"Because the buildings are old - the two buildings here are 110 years old - there's an awful lot of voids and shafts in these buildings and the fire just travels all through the place," FDNY Chief of Department Edward Kilduff explained. "It made it a catch-up operation."
The Red Cross was on the scene to offer residents temporary shelter, but Signorelle-Wong worried that it was going to be tough for many tenants to recover.
"Most of the people that live here are immigrants with no resources at all. They literally only have the clothes on their backs," she said. "I hope anyone who could help with all this will."
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.