Survivor of massive N.Y. fire speaks about “hell on earth”

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Many of those displaced by the fire across from City Hall had to escape flames; one man, now at the Red Cross Shelter, said he barely made it out alive.

“It was horrible. It was like hell on earth,”  said Anthony Cortese of Schenectady.

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Cortese was sitting quietly at a Red Cross Shelter on State Street when he told WANE’s sister station NEWS10ABC about his escape from his apartment at 104 Jay Street. It caught fire early Friday morning in Schenectady.

“It was so hot and the smoke was so bad. The last thing I managed to do was pull the fire alarm,” said Cortese.

Cortese says he had to make a quick decision if he wanted to make it out alive.

“So I ended up climbing out my window, grabbing onto some cables on the building swinging over to the fire escape. The fire escape door wouldn’t open in the hallway. By that time the flames were going through the hallway like a blast furnace,” Cortese said.


Flames so terrifying, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett says one person jumped from the fifth floor window. Cortese says he saw that man who suffered a broken back and other injuries according to officials.

“As I was climbing out my window a gentleman jumped from the fifth floor right passed me. He hit the ground, I grabbed him and dragged him away,”Cortese said.

Before escaping, Cortese said he noticed his friends couch was on fire, that friend he says didn’t make it out.

“The last thing I heard was my friend Harry screaming,” said Cortese.

Officials do believe at least one person at this time is unaccounted for. The Red Cross is providing shelter food and other items to around 25 people at the Christ Episcopal Church on State Street.

“What I have now is the clothes on my back so I’ll be OK,” Cortese said.

Authorities have not confirmed if anyone was found inside that wasn’t able to get out.firefire

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