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Victim of Hamilton Heights building fire victim identified as 15-year-old girl

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Darla Miles reports on the cause of a fire that claimed the life of teenager Melisa Mendez (WABC)

The victim of a fire Monday night at a Hamilton Heights apartment building has been identified as a teenage girl, and the incident has been deemed accidental.

The victim, 15-year-old Melisa Mendez, was found on a sixth-floor stairwell landing with burns over 90 percent of her body.

Authorities say the fire originated on the first floor and appears to have originated in the area of a commercially-produced power strip, apparently caused by overloaded extension cord under sofa. Officials say the fire spread quickly because a door was open.

"It traveled up the stairs very quickly," FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. "We (initially) deemed it suspicious."

The fire, which started around 5:45 p.m. and was under control by 7:40, spread through the first, second and fourth floors of 512 West 136th Street.

"We just panicked," resident Sandra De la Cruz said.

More than 100 firefighters responded to the four-alarm fire. Firefighters walked some residents down the fire escape of the six-story building to safety.

Many who went inside looking for trapped residents became exhausted, and 10 firefighters were injured, although none was considered serious.

Brian Cepeda lives on the fourth floor.

"We tried to leave," he said. "(It was) pretty scary."

New York City Fire Department Fire Marshals were on scene investigating.

The Red Cross responded to help those affected, offering housing, health support, food and water.

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