By  on January 23, 2006

NEW YORK — A five-alarm fire swept through four floors of a landmark building at 575 Broadway Saturday night, forcing two major retailers to close their doors Sunday: American Eagle Outfitters and Prada.

The cause of the fire, which injured three firemen, was not known.

Deputy Chief Ronald Schmutzler of the New York City Fire Department told WWD, "It's now basically a cleanup situation, boarding up the windows to make the building serviceable for the tenants. There are a lot of holes in the floors and the ceilings are ripped open. The cause of the fire is not yet known," he added, noting fire marshals were attempting to determine what triggered the blaze.

It could not be learned Sunday afternoon if the stores would be open for business today.

Security personnel at American Eagle and Prada declined to say when the stores would reopen and did not describe the extent of the damage. However, when asked if he believed the stores would be closed today, Deputy Chief Schmutzler said, "I would guess yes. There's water and smoke damage in there."

Officials at American Eagle and Prada headquarters could not be reached.

A crowd stood around makeup artist Bobbi Brown, who looked shaken, surrounded by several black suitcases, tote bags, albums, oversized portfolios and clothing. The beauty diva has maintained her studio and offices on the fourth floor of 575 Broadway for four years.

"Somebody called me this morning and told me," Brown said. "Some employees have been here since 3 a.m. My people are fine and my archives are fine. Thank God I could save my archives. But the third floor is destroyed. It's a mess."

Brown said a photo shoot for her fourth book, "Living Beauty," that had been planned for today at her studio would still be held today at another location.

The fire, which drew roughly 150 New York City firefighters, was believed to have started in the dressing rooms at the back of the American Eagle store at 575 Broadway, according to several firefighters who had been on the scene since 10 p.m. Saturday. The basement, as well as three floors of the six-story commercial building, had been filled with flames and thick smoke, destroying the entire third floor where all 10 windows facing Broadway had been knocked out. Five of the windows on the second floor were smashed, and the front doors of both the American Eagle and Prada stores had been rammed open by firemen.One firefighter from the 18th Fire Ladder Co., who arrived at 10 p.m. Saturday, said, "We found the fire in the [American Eagle] dressing rooms, and we broke down the walls. The fire spread pretty quickly. Smoke covered everything. You couldn't see a thing and you've got 16-inch ceilings. We were crawling on our hands and knees." He added that the sprinkler systems had been working.

Schmutzler speculated the fire might have spread through "a void where the duct work is between the floorboards."

In the wake of the fire, would-be shoppers Sunday morning were stopped by American Eagle employees from entering the store where broken glass was strewn at the entrance, water was dripping from the ceiling and large puddles were being mopped up. A smattering of merchandise was on the floor, but displays and apparel were not visibly damaged.

A security guard in front of the American Eagle store told a group of firemen and policemen, "No employees, nobody gets in 24/7."

Another security guard stood in front of the Prada store, where the front door had been relocked. Several large puddles of water and oversized cleaning rags from the NYFD could be seen through the door, but mannequins and merchandise as well as display windows appeared unscathed.

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