The three-alarm blaze started about 11 a.m. on the 20th floor of The Strand, a 42-story building in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, the New York Times reported. More than 100 firefighters converged on the scene to put out the fire, which sent residents fleeing out into the cold, the newspaper said.
Daniel McClung, 27, who was found in a smoky stairwell, died at a hospital, police said. The second victim, who wasn't identified, was hospitalized in serious-but-stable condition Sunday night, also after being found in a stairwell, officials said.
"They would have been better off if they had stayed in their apartments," James Esposito, the NYFD's chief of operations, said.
The fire was mostly extinguished by 1 p.m. but firefighters were still searching the building for any residents who may have been affected by the heavy smoke.
The cause of the fire had yet to be determined, the Times said.
Nadja Atwal said she, her husband and her 2-year-old son were on their 26th-floor home when she detected an bad odor and looked out into the hallway.
"The hallway was completely black," she said. "We opened the door to the stairway, and that was where the smoke was most intense."
She said they headed to their balcony to get away from the smoke and stayed there for more than an hour despite the cold.