Raine Manuel had just returned from dropping her husband off at his work at 6 a.m. Friday and was lying in bed, trying to get a few minutes of rest as her kids prepared for school, when her son, Pappu yelled, "Mom, fire!"
Flames were at the front door of their second-floor apartment at 112 Massachusetts Ave. Someone was banging on neighbors' doors, screaming at everyone to get out.
Manuel, Pappu, 17, and his sister, Zita, 15, tried to escape out the back of the house but found flames there too.
Neighbors screamed at them: "Just go through!"
They did, running through the flames as hot tar dripped on them from the melting porch roof.
"We had no choice," Manuel said, as friends comforted her on the sidewalk nearby.
The 6:43 a.m. fire quickly engulfed the 2 1/2-story house and spread to two adjacent houses, 110 and 114 Massachusetts, leaving at least five families without a place to live. Ten children and one adult were taken to hospitals, mostly to be treated for smoke inhalation. Pappu and Zita suffered minor burns, according to Buffalo Fire Division Chief Patrick Britzzalaro.
Damage to the three buildings totaled more than $500,000.
Fire marshals were investigating the cause of the fire which they said started in the front of the house. They have not ruled out arson.
Pedro Rodriguez, who lives across the street, was about to go to work when he saw flames shooting from the house.
"The fire was gushing out," he said, describing how flames seemed to be rolling up from under the front window. "That doorway was glowing," he said pointing to the charred front entrance.
Hidekel Rodriguez, who lives on the top floor of 110 Massachusetts, woke up to the sound of a girl's screams. In his apartment, he could feel the heat from the fire next door. He woke up his wife and 3-year-old daughter, grabbed his personal documents, and ran outside.
"Everything is lost," he said, as he waited for the Red Cross to arrive. He wanted help finding a place for his family to live.
Downstairs, Waler Douth's extended family of nine, fled from their apartment. His daughter, Nyakouth, 15, a sophomore at Hutchinson Central Technical High School, didn't even have time to put on her shoes.
Massachusetts Avenue is in the heart of the West Side, home to many immigrants, resettled refugees and people with roots in Puerto Rico, and the victims of Friday's fire reflect that diversity. Manuel and her family are from Burma. The family who moved in downstairs six months ago is from Puerto Rico. The Douths are from Sudan.
As dozens of firefighters poured water on the blackened houses, Nyakouth stood barefoot on the sidewalk, next to the family's van. Three of her siblings were taken to the hospital, she said. Tests had showed they had elevated levels of carbon dioxide in their systems. She translated for her father, who speaks Arabic, as a fire marshal explained that there a lot of their things in the apartment that were salvageable, but there was a lot of water damage.
Her father wasn't convinced.
"He said everything is damaged," Nyakouth said. "Everything. The fridge. The clothes. Everything is damaged."