A massive inferno reduced a vacant Prospect Heights building into a smoky, crumbling ruin on Saturday — and squatters could be to blame.
Neighbors said that a handful of people ran from the corner property at Washington Avenue and St. Johns Place just before the 4:20 am blaze began, even though the building was vacant. A deli, which was closed, operated out of the bottom floor.
Fire investigators don’t know how or where the fire started.
“When we got there, the fire had pretty much spread throughout the building,” an FDNY spokesman explained. “We couldn’t get inside and we won’t be able to find out what caused the fire without further investigation.”
Firefighters stationed down the block from the corner property arrived within two minutes, but it was already too late: the fire had consumed most of the building, tore through the roof and begun damaging neighboring homes. The searing flames shooting out of the roof could be seen for blocks, neighbors said.
“It looked like a bomb went off inside,” one onlooker noted.
The building eventually collapsed, with all the upper floors caving into the deli. One hundred and 98 firefighters responded to the blaze, which was extinguished by 7 am.
Fire officials say they have no evidence that anyone was inside the building before the fire broke out – but investigators were still sifting through the rubble.
As everyone scrambled for safety, one falling brick struck a firefighter in the face — breaking the smoke eater’s cheekbone.
Six other firefighters suffered smoke inhalation and were taken to Kings County Hospital.
A neighbor also suffered smoke inhalation and was removed to New York Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, officials said.