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The arsonists were as busy as the looters. Firemen fought 1,037 blazes, six times the normal number, and received nearly 1,700 false alarms. They were set either to divert the attention of the cops or just for the fun of it. When the firemen showed up, their sirens screaming, the crowds pelted them with rocks and bottles. Of the fires, 65 were considered serious, including a store fire in Brooklyn at which 22 firemen were hurt. Another blaze began in a looted factory warehouse in Brooklyn, then leaped across the street to destroy four tenements and finally spread to two other houses. In all, 59 firemen were injured fighting the fires.
One of New York's worst-hit areas was a 14-block stretch of jewelry, clothing, appliance, furniture and other retail stores along Broadway in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Reported TIME'S Paul Witteman: "The evidence of looting was numbing. As firemen fought blazes from cherrypickers, the looters went about their business virtually unmolested. Occasionally they would step over to one of the fire trucks and drink water from a running outlet. Some of the more enterprising looters parked rented trucks on the side streets, engines running, and loaded up with couches, refrigerators, TV sets—the durable goods that will sell most easily on the black market. Periodically, when a rumor swept through the pack that the police were coming, the looters would break and run. But the police, outnumbered and fatigued, often did not try to chase them. When I left the area, it was burning, the flames taking what little the looters left behind."
After touring the ravaged South Bronx, TIME Correspondent Mary Cronin reported: "Streams of black water from broken fire hydrants swept the residue of the looting into the middle of the streets. Burned-out delivery trucks, spilling their seats onto the pavement, blocked doorways. Twisted steel grilles—some yanked from storefronts with trucks that were then filled with loot—lay across sidewalks. In the new Fedco supermarket, shelves gleamed bare and white, while several inches of mashed produce, packages of squashed hamburger, rivers of melted ice cream, and broken bottles covered the floors. The stench was overpowering. Up to 300 stores were cleaned out in the neighborhood, and the next morning sheets of plywood covered most of their smashed windows. Said Policeman John Fitzgerald: 'There are only cops and crooks left here now.' "
In the South Bronx, along East Tremont Avenue, one of the few shopping areas left in the gutted slum, looters stole some $55,000 worth of goods from the huge R & M Furniture store. The next day its owner put out word that he would pay $25 for each TV set returned. Police learned from a tipster that a man had stashed swag in his basement. The cops entered without a search warrant and reclaimed about $2,000 worth of furniture. One of the invading cops admitted later with a laugh: "Now I can be arrested for a violation."
A number of looters were robbed in turn by other thieves, who clawed and wrenched away their booty.