updated 4/9/2007 8:23:29 AM ET 2007-04-09T12:23:29

Terrified residents climbed down fire escapes and firefighters carried others down ladders to safety from a blaze at an apartment building that injured as many as 53 people, authorities said.

"Everybody was in a panic," said Elizabeth Clayborne, who climbed nine stories down a fire escape. "It was crowded. Everyone started crying. It was horrific."

Others were rescued by firefighters from the 17-story Bronx building, where the fire was reported on the first floor Sunday night.

"I figured there was no way out," said Sandra Fernandez, whom firefighters rescued by breaking a window in her second-floor apartment. She said she could feel the heat from the fire through her apartment door.

Firefighters said five people were seriously hurt, and police said two men remained in critical condition early Monday.

The total number hurt was unclear, as firefighters reported 39 civilian injuries and police reported 29. The Fire Department said 14 firefighters also were hurt, none of them seriously.

The fire was ruled an accident, police said.

A March 7 inferno in the same borough claimed 10 lives when flames ignited by a space heater ripped through a century-old town house inhabited by two immigrant families from West Africa.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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