The blaze started in Sarge's Delicatessen Restaurant on Third Ave. between E. 36th and E. 37th Sts. around 6:50 p.m. and spread with vicious speed throughout the four-story building, sources and witnesses said.
"My room started filling up with smoke," said Amir Jalali, a 28-year-old consultant who lives in an apartment on the top floor. "We looked out the fire escape window and I saw a column of flames in the back of the building."
More than 150 firefighters battled the blaze for 90 minutes as flames seeped behind the walls of Sarge's and traveled through ventilation ducts, said Division 3 Deputy Chief Thomas McKavanagh.
"The restaurant sustained some severe damage and will not be open for a while," said McKavanagh.
It was not immediately clear what sparked the ferocious fire.
By Jennifer H. Cunningham AND Shane Dixon Kavanaugh / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS