2010-02-17 / Front Page

Questions Rage Over Fire

BY LIZ GOFF

Nantes Photography Nantes Photography A four-alarm fire at 84-09 37th Ave., Jackson Heights was called in on February 13 at 9:53 a.m., at 9:56 a.m. 39 additional units with 168 more firefighters arrived at the scene. More than 200 firefighters, four of which sustained minor injuries, brought the inferno under control by 1:31 p.m.

Investigators this week are trying to determine what caused the fire that consumed 13 businesses along the 37th Avenue commercial strip in Jackson Heights, which resulted in evacuating residents from a nearby apartment building.

Fire officials said the blaze didn’t end when teams of firefighters pulled out of the area on Saturday evening. Fire units that remained on the scene were forced back into the buildings on February 14 when hot spots flared up from the ashes, fed by smoldering material buried beneath the rubble.

Officials believe the inferno started at about 9:53 a.m. in the Acme Furniture Store on 84th Street and 37th Avenue and quickly spread to adjacent businesses. A partial ceiling collapse and “hidden pockets” of fire that spread between the roof and ceilings of the buildings made battling the blaze especially hazardous for firefighters, FDNY officials said.

Acme workers said they were grateful to make it out of the fire.

Fernando Montaya, an Acme employee, said he was opening the furniture store when he spotted heavy smoke inside the building. “A woman from the party store came running, yelling, “Get out fire, fire!” Montaya said. “Then people on the street started screaming for us to get out. Thanks to God and those people, I’m alive,” he said.

Fire officials said it was a miracle that there were no injuries to workers at the 13 businesses destroyed by the conflagration, or at other businesses located nearby.

Inspectors from the city Department of Buildings visited the site on Monday and determined the blaze left six buildings structurally unsafe. Demolition workers arrived at the scene on Monday to tear down the scarred shells left behind by the blaze.

Business owners watched in disbelief on Saturday as their livelihoods went up in smoke. A number of them said they did not have enough insurance to cover their loss and that they would need financial assistance to rebuild or open at another location.

Local legislators called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg on February 15, saying the blaze sounded an alarm on proposed firehouse closings recently announced by the mayor.

City Councilmember Daniel Dromm said he thinks the city needs to reconsider closing the 20 fire companies proposed by Bloomberg to help close the city budget gap.

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