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FDNY: Cause Of Fatal Manhattan High-Rise Fire Was Electrical

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The cause of a Manhattan high-rise fire that claimed a man's life Sunday was electrical, according to the FDNY.

The electrical fire was caused by several items being plugged into a power strip, said FDNY Chief of Operations James Esposito.

A self-closing door that didn't close helped fan the flames, Esposito said.

Police had a large area in front of the building at 43rd Street and 10th Avenue blocked off Monday as debris from the fire continued to rain down on the street.

Daniel McClung, 27,who died while trying to escape the fire may have been better off staying in his apartment, officials said Monday.

The fire broke out around 11 a.m. Sunday in an apartment on the 20th floor. 911 operators told residents to stay in their apartments rather than try to escape, but dozens shrugged off the advice.

"We come out, and the whole place was full of smoke," said Frank Reynolds, who lives on the 41st floor. "The only place to go was on the sundeck on the top, so I was out there on the snow. All I had was a towel."

"I just panicked just like everybody else," said resident Jane Elissa.

Investigation Continues Into Deadly Manhattan High-Rise Fire

Among the frightened residents were McClung and 32-year-old Michael Cohen, newlyweds who lived on the 38th floor.

They had tried to escape through the stairwell, but only made it down seven flights before they were overcome with smoke.

"Unfortunately, at this fire, it appears that the victims may have originally been in their apartments, safe," said FDNY Assistant Fire Chief John Sudnik.

Fire officials say many buildings higher than seven floors -- including the one in Sunday's fire -- are specifically designed to trap flames and keep them from spreading.

"In the event this apartment door was self-closing we wouldn't have had the tremendous build-up of heat, tremendous build-up of smoke in the public hall on the 20th floor," Esposito told reporters including CBS 2's Tony Aiello.

In case of a fire, they stress you are safer opening a window and laying wet towels at the base of the door than trying to escape.

"In fireproof residential buildings, ... 99.9 percent of the time you are safer in your fire in your apartment," Esposito told WCBS 880's Marla Diamond.

FDNY: Cause Of Fatal Manhattan High-Rise Fire Was Electrical

"Your first instinct is to leave, but apparently that isn't the right instinct, especially with a fireproof building," said Elissa.

Resident Ronnie Stein agreed.

"Certainly I would never stay, no matter what," Stein said, "If you see smoke or learn there's a fire you get out."

McClung was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. Cohen was hospitalized in stable condition.

Daniel McClung
Daniel McClung, 27, was killed in a fire at the Strand condo apartment building on West 43rd Street, on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. (Credit: Facebook)

Abdul Lubis cleans the couple's apartment every week and was stunned when he heard the news.

"When I heard it the first time, I couldn't believe it," he said. "Then I saw the pictures of them, then I start a little bit crying because they're very nice people."

"I was lucky to run around town with Dan my first few years in New York City," said Chana Porter, co-founder of AliveWire Theatrics. "He was one of those bright, fiercely warm people -- a pleasure to be around and an even greater pleasure to work with. So fortunate that I was able to witness the development of his relationship with his husband, Michael, which was loving and deeply committed from the very beginning. My heart goes out to Michael and their families. He will be greatly missed."

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