It wasn't the flames but the black, choking smoke that caused a major scare for the many tenants of the Mitchel Houses.
The fire broke out shortly after noon inside the trash compactor of the NYCHA apartment building on east 138th Street.
Canineya Means grabbed her daughter and her dog and hurried down nine flights of stairs.
"I just came out the ambulance, I couldn't breathe," Means said. " Yeah, it was bad. When I opened up my door it was covered, I couldn't see nothing."
About 80 firefighters responded and quickly extinguished the flames.
The battalion chief said the fire started in the compactor shaft on the second floor.
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The resulting smoke rose back up the shaft and poured out onto each floor of the 20-story high-rise building.
"Once the fire is out the smoke sits in the building," Battalion chief Sean Michael said. "It's a tall building and we just help to vent out the smoke inside the building and calm the people. Go into all the apartments, check all the apartments and make sure everyone is safe."
Elizabeth Gonzalez rushed into the building after her daughter called her in a panic.
"I saw all the smoke coming from all the floors, even the 18th floor," Gonzalez said. "Mad smoke was coming out of all the floors. And I was down here devastated waiting for her to come down and thank God that everything is OK."
Fire department EMTs came to the aid of four civilians for smoke inhalation. One person was taken to Lincoln Hospital for additional treatment.
One firefighter was also treated at the scene and went to Jacobi Medical Center. His condition is not yet known.
The chief said responding firefighters did hear smoke detectors inside the building.
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