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Three-alarm fire rips through Harlem retail strip already wracked by COVID-19 closures

Firefighters force entry into a commerical building at 163 125 Street. A fire consumed the second floor of a store. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

The Harlem shopping strip took yet another economic hit as a 3-alarm fire roared through a massive clothing store Sunday night, fire officials said.

The 7:30 p.m. fire has been deemed “suspicious” by fire officials because of the volume of fire they found upon arrival. No injuries were reported, fire officials said.

The shopping strip has been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak, with many of the stores shuttered by order of the governor.

More than 150 firefighters responded to a report of heavy smoke billowing from the Lazarus Clothing Store, 162 W 125th Street. Firefighters began cutting open the front store gates as heavy smoke pour from behind them.

Firefighters forced entry into a commercial building at 163 125 Street. A fire consumed the second floor of a store. (photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

Initial attempts to control the fire from within were immediately thwarted as fire officials found the blaze had spread into the second floor and through the roof, causing an immediate evacuation of firefighters to an exterior operation.

Deputy Assistant Chief Brendan McSweeney said that when his firefighters arrived, they saw the heavy smoke behind the roll-down gates and into the second floor and “things went bad quickly.” He said the fire spread very quickly and then “we had a partial roof collapse, the cornice collapsed onto the sidewalk, but thankfully, there were no injuries.”

Chief McSweeney said the rest of the battle was done from the exterior because of further threats of collapse, using three-tower ladders to pour water onto the burning building that would last throughout the night.

Firefighters surrounded the fire building on 125th Street in Harlem. (photo by Lucian Maisel)

Both 125th Street and Adam Clayton Power Blvd were closed during the fire and 125th Street was expected to remain closed throughout the day. The store is directly across the street from the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, also closed mostly because of COVID-19.

It was unclear whether the building, estimated to be about 30-40 years old, was equipped with a sprinkler system. Most commercial buildings are required to have sprinklers. The fire is now under investigation by fire marshals.

Firefighters forced entry into a commercial building at 163 125 Street. A fire consumed the second floor of a store. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

 

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