NEW ORLEANS - A massive five-alarm fire engulfed several buildings in the historic Treme neighborhood, shutting down streets and keeping residents from their homes.
The blaze broke out around 4 p.m. at an abandoned two-story home near the intersection of North Robertson and Claiborne Avenue and quickly spread to other buildings.
The intense fire sent dark smoke into the sky, snarling traffic, shutting down roads, drawing a large crowd, and forcing residents to evacuate.
Fire Chief Charles Parent said it actually leaped across the street. Firefighters are camping out overnight at the scene to keep an eye on the charred buildings to make sure that they don't re-ignite.
Neighbors said blocked streets kept fire engines from a prompt response and aided in the blaze spreading. At least two of the damaged homes were occupied, according to Parent.
“Traumatic because, as you look it was coming right at us, and dropping the fire and ash in its way," said Paula Higginson.
The thick smoke and intense flames moved menacingly towards Higginson's historic home on Esplanade Avenue. All this Treme family could do was pick up their garden hose and battle the floating firebrands.
"It's our lucky day because just think if that garden house hadn't been on that place would have torched. I said to my neighbor we're in this together," said Higginson.
Parent said the cause of the fire is under investigation: Our investigator what he's doing right now, he's getting background information from witnesses talking to people in the neighborhood about what they saw."
A knock on the door from a police officer is how Charles Kennon and his two dogs ended up watching fire crews busy at work from the neutral ground.
"I started to hear a lot of ambulances and opened the door and saw all the people, and I said, wow, a parade! No parade today," said Kennon.
Nicole Terry arrived home to learn her 17-year-old daughter had escaped their smoke-filled apartment. "I don't know where I'm going to sleep tonight. I'm thankful for being alive. I just thankful for being alive that's the main thing."
There were no reports of injuries. The Red Cross is assisting four families displaced by the fire.
Several units from the fire department raced against time to protect historic buildings from the flames, which had spread from one building to at least a couple of others.