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A call from a relative early on Thursday delivered the crushing news to Louleo Darga: The small hair salon she had owned in the Bronx since she came to the United States from Burkina Faso a quarter of a century ago had been consumed by fire.
"You take care of your kids with it; I take care of all of them with that shop," Ms. Darga, who has seven children, said as she stood watching a plume of smoke rising from what remained of her salon, Darga Hair Braiding.
The blaze, which quickly escalated to five alarms, destroyed a row of small storefront businesses along White Plains Road in a working-class neighborhood populated by immigrants from different parts of the world. They were the kind of relatively modest businesses that allow owners to pay their bills and provide for their families, and that attract a loyal customer base.
"I been coming here for a long time," Bunny Lee, 35, a chef, said of the commercial block that was now ashes and cinders. "This is a big hurt to these parts."
Besides Ms. Darga's hair salon, the businesses destroyed included two delis, a laundromat, a cellphone store and a check-cashing business.
The first 911 call about the fire came in at 6:16 a.m., fire officials said, with reports that it had started in a garage at 3985 White Plains Road underneath the elevated subway tracks. The fire then spread to other businesses through a common cockloft, a part of the roof shared by adjoining buildings. The fire could be seen for miles and disrupted subway service, with trains bypassing the 225th Street station, which was enveloped in smoke.
Eleven firefighters and one passer-by were taken to hospitals in the Bronx with minor injuries, mostly for smoke inhalation, a fire official said.
What started the fire is still under investigation, officials said.
By the time the fire was declared under control at 9:45 a.m., it had destroyed or damaged 11 businesses on White Plains Road, between 225th and 226th Streets.
Firefighters blasted a hose straight into the rubble from the street while a team using a ladder truck rained a spray of water onto the fire. At times, the wind and water whipped the white smoke from the fire into a noxious fog that made the entire block disappear and sent onlookers scurrying away, their shirts pulled up over their noses.
Gordon Livingston, 51, a neighbor, shook his head as he watched jets of water hissing into the wreckage.
"It's total devastation for this community," he said. "This is like mom-and-pop shops trying to get by. This is a big loss."
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