The victims, including a 9-year-old girl, were pulled from the house on 35th Avenue in Woodside after the fire broke out around 12:45 a.m.
Jabar Saidi works at a deli one block away, and he heard screaming and ran over as firefighters arrived to flame shooting from the windows with people trapped inside.
"I could feel it," he said. "I don't know, to be inside a fire. There's no way to get out of it."
Related: Lightning strike sparks large house fire in Gloucester Township
The intense heat kept neighbors at bay.
"I was trying, you know, I take the screwdriver to break the window but too much flames," witness Bakhtiar Khan said. "So I cannot hit it, but the second house, I knocked on the door and the people come out."
A 56-year-old woman was taken to the burn unit at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in critical but stable condition, while a 32-year-old woman was taken to Bellevue Hospital also in critical but stable condition.
It is believed she is the mother of the 9-year-old, who was taken to Elmhurst Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. A 24-year-old woman also went to Elmhurst.
Four firefighters also sustained minor injuries.
Saidi said the flames looked like something out of his war-torn home country of Yemen, and it is a trauma he knows the little girl who survived won't soon forget.
"The most person I feel about is the child," he said. "She haven't start her life yet."
The fire was contained to one house, and neither of the adjoining homes suffered any damage.
Related: 6 businesses destroyed in fire at Long Island strip mall
FDNY fire marshals determined the cause to be electrical and accidental, blaming the blaze on overloaded power strips and extension cords.
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