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A five-alarm fire destroyed the top floors of a historic Chinatown building that housed the archives for the Museum of Chinese in America on Thursday.
Eight firefighters and one civilian were injured in the blaze at 70 Mulberry Street at Bayard Street, which started around 8:45 p.m. One man was reportedly rescued from the roof via ladder and sustained smoke inhalation injuries. None of the injuries are believed to be life-threatening.
The fire was still not under control as of 9:15 a.m., according to an FDNY spokesperson. In an Instagram post this morning, the FDNY said, "We have a deep-seated fire in the roof area that is difficult to access." One FDNY source told ABC 7 the roof of the building caved in.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said at a press conference Friday morning that the blaze was so intense that firefighters couldn't enter the building and had to battle it from the outside. He also said the building had been recently renovated.
The building was home to the archives for the Museum of Chinese in America, whose website described the collection as a "nationally-significant collection of materials documenting Chinese life in America" with "more than 65,000 artifacts, photos, memorabilia, documents, oral histories, and art work. This expansive array of archival material enriches the history of Chinese in America for our visitors in ways both rigorously academic and profoundly personal."
An FDNY spokesperson said Friday morning that there is "significant water damage throughout the building." The museum's team tweeted Friday that they were meeting with emergency conservators:
The building is also home to the H.T. Chen & Dancers company. The studios and theater for the dance center, founded by the legendary choreographer and performer H.T. Chen, are located on the second-floor of the building, and had undergone a round of renovations in 2014. Chen told NBC News that he has been in the building for over 40 years. "This building is very important. It's so unfortunate to have a fire. It's very sad," he said.
A senior center run by the Chinese-American Planning Council is also in the building.
The building used to be home to P.S. 23 before it was turned into a hub of Chinatown cultural life. City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who represents the district, told NBC News she attended school there in 1963.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. We'll update as more information becomes available.
Update 3:40 p.m.: At a press conference at the scene Friday afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the fire was still active in the building. Once the fire is fully extinguished, the city Buildings Department will inspect the structural integrity of the building to determine if it's safe to enter.
The building, a former public school, is owned by the city, and de Blasio vowed to rebuild: “We will restore it one way or another. Whether we're either going to be able to work with some of the areas that have been saved and build on top of them, or we're going to have to rebuild it. But it's a beautiful historic building and we will restore it.”
Elderly patrons of the senior center in the building will be transferred to other city facilities within 48 hours, according to the mayor. Smoke lingered in the air, but de Blasio said the city’s Department of Environmental Protection has run multiple air quality tests “but so far we do not have a threat to health based on air quality.”
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters the civilian victim, a 59-year-old man, was recovering from his smoke inhalation injuries and was in serious but stable condition. An investigation into the fire’s cause is ongoing.
De Blasio added, "This is a painful moment for the community, right on the eve of a joyous celebration." But Councilmember Margaret Chin said the Lunar New Year activities planned for the weekend in Chinatown will proceed as planned.
As of this afternoon, MOCA President Nancy Yao Maasbach said she still hasn't been able to gain access to the building to check on the condition of the archives.
Additional reporting by Andy Mai