The 92-year-old victim was taken to Bellevue Hospital in serious condition. No other people were hurt in the fire, which began with a lit cigarette, fire officials said.
Firefighters were called to the 16-story building at 541 East 20th Street at 10:46 a.m. Neighbors on the 11th, 12th and 13th floors recalled watching their hallways fill with smoke as firefighters banged on doors. At apartments where no one answered, firefighters knocked doors open to make sure the fire and smoke hadn’t spread. Those who were home were told to stay inside.
Neighbors said the victim was a heavy smoker and a hoarder of newspapers, and that Peter Cooper Village staffers had removed large amounts of newspapers from her apartment at least once before. But a fire department spokesman would not comment on whether the newspapers were a part of the cause. Fire marshals are still investigating how exactly it happened, the spokesman said.
Several tenants were forced to wait outside in the cold while the smoke cleared.
Firefighters also knocked out the windows of the victim’s apartment, sending shards of glass to the sidewalk and grass in front of the building.