No one was hurt.
Investigators say the flames went to three alarms, sending smoke billowing across Lower Manhattan toward the Brooklyn Bridge -- a scene bound to bring up scary memories from Sept. 11. Approximately 500 people were milling around shopping and enjoying the warm weather on Pier 17, when the fire broke out around 4 p.m; theyhad to be evacuated.
The flames originated beneath the pier, which is made of very thick, old wood. According to the FDNY, firefighters had to use chainsaws to cut approximately eight holes into the pier before they could get to the flames; a fire boat was used to help get control of the situation. A FDNY spokesman said the department could've had a full-blown disaster on its hands, given the number of people -- tourists included -- who were out and about.
Police and fire officials say things were under control just before 6 p.m. There are unconfirmed reports of the flames being sparked by a cigarette butt -- possibly being flicked into a soda machine. Shops and restaurants away from the affected remained open, without disruptions.
Approximately 1,000 square feet of the pier was blocked off and Building Department officials were there to determine the stability of the structure, which is set on a concrete slab, the FDNY said.