As WCBS 880′s Marla Diamond reported, more than 160 firefighters battled the blaze.
Nine firefighters and two residents were injured, CBS 2 reported.
The fire appears to have started in a 99-cent store on the first floor of a building at 174th Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue around 10:30 a.m. Monday. It quickly spread to the second floor of the six-story building.
“All of a sudden, flames started coming out of the window at the front of the 99-cent store,” witness Michael Colletti told CBS 2′s Tamara Leitner. “The next thing you know there was thousands of firemen.”
Fire officials said flames spread quickly.
“This type of construction enables that,” Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Saccente told Diamond. “There’s a lot of void where heat and fire could spread throughout the building to remote locations.”
Investigators have not yet determined how the fire started.
The smoke spread all the way to the top floor of the building. Three apartments were destroyed, and many more suffered smoke damage.
“My heart wants to come out,” a woman who lives on the sixth floor told Diamond. “I’m like shaking, it’s horrible, horrible.”
Footage from the scene showed smoke billowing from the central courtyard of the building. Three tower ladders extended up from the street and firefighters were pacing the roof of the building.