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Fire Destroys 14 Businesses In Kew Gardens Hills, Queens

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- An extra-alarm fire broke out on a commercial block in Queens Friday evening and went on to leave 14 businesses in ruin.

The FDNY said the fire was reported at 6:24 p.m. at 77-49 Vleigh Pl., at 77th Road, in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens. The fire was raised to a fourth alarm shortly afterward, and to a fifth alarm around 9:14 p.m.

Smothering smoke poured from the business strip as firefighters worked to douse the stubborn blaze.

"It really looks bad," said Darius Atkins. "It looks crazy. It's unbelievable."

Several times, it appeared that firefighters were getting the upper hand, only for huge flames to appear again. It took until after midnight Saturday morning for the fire to be brought under control.

A total of 175 firefighters responded to the scene with 40 units, according to FDNY Chief James Leonard.

There was a lot of smoke filling the air – making for tough visibility and making it extremely hard to breathe.

Authorities say three firefighters are being treated for smoke inhalation.

In total, a strip of 14 businesses are a total loss, Leonard said. The businesses that were destroyed included a law office, a pizza shop, a dry cleaners, and a kosher bakery and restaurant.

"That's the real shame of it -- here we are, a holiday weekend, and 14 people lose their businesses," Leonard said.

Heavy fire was raging in the cockloft – the area between the ceilings and the roof that is shared by all the buildings on the strip, Leonard said. The fire being in the cockloft made it extremely difficult to put out, Leonard said.

"We were on the scene within three minutes," Leonard said. "Once the fire gets in to these concealed spaces up above – above the roof -- it's almost impossible for us to put it out."

The thick cloud of smoke from the blaze shifted with wind gusts. It caught the attention of nearby residents, including Atkins, who covered his face while he spoke to CBS2's Valerie Castro.

"It smells terrible," Atkins said. "I have asthma, so this is really bad."

"It's like so much smoke, like you know, it's really hard to breathe and you know, like, for me to get home, it's like really smoky and everything," said Bhumi Patel.

There was no word on the cause late Friday night, and it was not clear where the fire started.

Investigators and crews will be on the scene for 24 to 48 hours, Leonard said.

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