Two people and a dog were rescued from a Treme building that caught fire Friday morning, sending flames and smoke billowing from the roof and shutting down morning rush-hour traffic on Basin Street.
The building near Basin and North Villere streets sits between Bertha's Place Bar and Restaurant and a private parking garage. The portion of the building facing Basin was vacant, but a couple lived in one apartment at the rear of the property.
Melissa Simmons, 54, said she and her boyfriend were inside their apartment when they realized the fire was underway, and they were unable to escape on their own.
"We were sitting inside and all I heard was this boom!" Simmons said. "Then we noticed the flames. It was getting too heavy for us to leave."
In a panic, Simmons called her son, Lucas, and the Fire Department.
Eventually, firefighters were able to punch out an air conditioning unit on the second floor in the rear of the building, and Simmons, her boyfriend and their dog, Prince, were able to escape through the window to safety.
"I'm trying not to panic, but I thought our life was going to pass us by," Simmons said.
Simmons said her boyfriend had lived at the location for at least 15 years, and she had been staying there with him for the past three years.
"Lord, I don't know what we're going to do," she said while watching firefighters continue to battle the flames.
A total of 59 firefighters from 21 units battled the three-alarm blaze, which was placed under control shortly before 11 a.m., Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell said.
According to McConnell, dispatchers received the initial call at 8:28 a.m. The first units arrived five minutes later.
A fire station a half-block away on the opposite side of Basin Street is currently undergoing renovations, and no fire trucks were at the station at 1441 St. Peter St. on Friday.
The lone firefighter assigned to the firehouse during the renovation said that when someone first banged on the station's door to raise the alarm, flames were already shooting from the nearby building's roof.
McConnell credited firewalls and his department's quick response with preventing the fire from spreading to adjacent buildings.
Two firefighters were treated at the scene for minor injuries. They were knocked to the ground when the connection on a high-capacity hose ruptured, McConnell said.
Firefighters and friends consoled Bertha Bradley, the owner of Bertha's Place, as she watched the fire near her bar.
More than 90 minutes after firefighters arrived, they were still pouring water into the smoking building from high atop ladder trucks and at ground level.
McConnell said a wall at the back of the building was in danger of collapse, and that a leaking gas line inside was a concern.
New Orleans Homeland Security Director Aaron Miller said Friday afternoon that city workers were trying to determine whether the building was still structurally sound or would have to be torn down.
A contractor was inside the building Friday morning working on a gas line or meter, and McConnell said his actions might have caused the fire. An investigation of the cause is underway.
Basin Street remained closed in both directions between North Claiborne Avenue and St. Peter Street for several hours.