Tag Archive | "Fire"

Fire Destroys Fordham Heights Home

Fire gutted a home on East 184th Street in the Fordham Heights section of The Bronx early Monday morning. A video report by SkyFoxHD shows the house in flames before firefighters arrived on the scene. FDNY officials said the flames broke out at about 6:20 a.m. at 15 E. 184th St. near Walton Avenue. It was brought under control at about 8 a.m., an official tweet by the FDNY reported.

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Fordham Residents Flee Raging Fire in Hazardous Apartment Building

Damage to the second-floor apartment where the blaze began at 2727 University Avenue. (YI DU / The Bronx Ink)

A fire ripped through a University Avenue apartment building on West 195th Street and Eames Place on Sept. 13, injuring 14 residents, three of whom are in critical condition. Residents described terrifying moments trying to flee on fire escapes that were hard to find in poorly lit, smoke-filled areas. Below a shattered fifth-floor window, a trail of blood stained the building. It was from a resident who severed an artery while trying to escape. The fire began in a second floor apartment after 11:15 p.m on Wednesday in the northwest Bronx. A 4-year old girl, 34-year old woman and 50-year old man are in critical condition at North Central Bronx Hospital and New York Presbyterian Hospital. Thick smoke traveled quickly and filled the poorly designed apartment units, making it difficult for residents to find fire escapes. “That was the worst several minutes in my life,” said Jeimy Diaz, a resident in the fifth floor who injured herself while trying to find the fire escape atop the darkly lit roof. “We thought we were gonna die. The whole building is damaged.” The fire department could not be reached for comment. DNAinfo.com reported 25 fire units, more than 100 firefighters, rushed to battle the blaze inside the six-story building. According to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the building has 21 violations described as "immediately hazardous with inadequate fire exits, rodents, lead-based paint, lack of heat, hot water, electricity, or gas.” The Brooklyn-based landlord, Residential Management Inc., has received 93 complaints this year from residents of the building, according to city records. The complaints range from broken windows, water leaks, mold and defective or missing smoke detectors. Charred furniture, strewn belongings and broken glass replaced what were once living spaces for many residents. While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, residents such as Diaz are asking to be relocated. She worries that her children who have asthma will suffer from the lingering chemicals that now rise from the building’s physical damage. Ryan Hernandez, 12, lives on the first floor and was able to immediately evacuate the burning building. “I didn’t know what was happening,” said Hernandez, “people were screaming and I heard the firemen say ‘get out there! Everybody get out.’” Coleen Jose can be contacted via email at lj2207@columbia.edu or on Twitter Yi Du can be contacted via email at yd2257@columbia.edu or on Twitter.  

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Back in baked goods

On a crisp mid-October morning in the northwest Bronx, a weary middle-aged woman lifted one tray after another filled with colorful cupcakes, creamy cheesecakes and pieces of baklava, a honey-soaked Mediterranean delicacy, inside their glass display racks. Flags flanked the “Grand Opening” sign outside the shop on 204th Street and Bainbridge Avenue in Norwood. Curious customers offered congratulations to Ana Mirdita on her bakery’s opening day, again.“Welcome back. We missed you,” said one elderly woman tenderly to Mirdita, after ordering a fresh loaf of Italian bread. Two mysterious fires within a seven-month period had destroyed the family-owned Bainbridge Bakery in 2009, an iconic part of Norwood’s business section since 1981.
For the owners, husband and wife team Ana and Tony Mirdita, the bakery’s reopening ended their arduous struggle to keep doing what they’ve done since moving to New York from Montenegro more than 30 years before: provide Bronx residents with freshly-baked breads and sweet pastries. “It’s so far so good,” said Mirdita, softly. “I think we will do well again. If God’s willing, everything is going to be all right.” It was no wonder why Mirdita was saying her prayers. Luck was against the couple two years earlier, when a five-alarm fire destroyed 10 businesses along Bainbridge Avenue, gutting their bakery. She and her husband Tony, 62, a baker trained in Montenegro, were days away from reopening. “We lost $1 million in the second fire. We lost everything,” said Mirdita, who looked stressed even on this more festive day.  “It was a big mess.”
Police eventually arrested a nearby diner owner, charging him with insurance fraud and hiring an arsonist. But it wasn’t enough to help the Mirditas. They didn’t yet have fire insurance. Having already taken out an additional mortgage on their home to invest in the bakery, the couple was left with nothing, and were forced to shut it down. Losing their livelihood was agonizing, Mirdita said, adding that  the small business bureau and a local bank refused to help them rebuild. “It was especially hard for my husband,” said Mirdita, adding that Tony, who is an ethnic Albanian, was hospitalized several times due to stress-related health problems. Other businesses along Bainbridge Avenue had received a token of $1,000 from the city’s Department of Small Business Services after the mysterious first fire, but nothing after the second fire, said a local official. “They didn’t receive any direct financial support,” said Fernando Tirado, district manager for Community Board 7. “I think maybe they had false expectations about what small business services would provide in the long-term.” Instead, the couple turned to family and friends, who loaned them $350,000 to open up a new shop, Ana’s Bakery, last year in Williamsbridge on the Pelham Parkway. But the troubles didn’t stop there. The Mirditas soon found out that the loyal customers of Norwood did not follow them to the new location. “I come here, biggest mistake of my life,” said Tony, from the Williamsbridge bakery a couple of weeks ahead of his Norwood reopening. “There’s no business. There’s no customers. The rent is high over here.” When a shop beside the still vacant lot that once held their Bainbridge Avenue bakery became available earlier this year, the couple jumped at the chance to move back. The Mirditas borrowed another $80,000, hoping that this third return would be their last. The diner owner was charged with arson in the second fire. Mohammed Quadir, 51, is expected in court on November 22 of this year. The Mirditas said they were not following his case and barely knew Quadir before the fires. Meanwhile, residents said they are ecstatic that the bakery has returned to its roots in Norwood, especially since many of the stores destroyed in the 2009 fires were never rebuilt. “I’m pretty excited to have the bakery back,” said Greg Jost, 35, deputy director of a housing advocacy group and resident on nearby Rochambeau Avenue. “It’s still a pretty big drag to have a big vacant lot here, but I’m happy they are coming back.” As to why the stalwart couple has never considered finding other ways to make a living, Ana Mirdita made it clear that the bakery business is in the family blood. One of her three children can often be found baking through the night, she said. He is expected to take over the business at some point. However, it’s Tony’s  devotion to the delicate art of creating tarts, pastries and cakes that has kept the family going. “He’s a baker all his life,” said Mirdita lovingly of her husband. “It’s his baby.”

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Fire in Soundview building leaves tenants with holes in the walls

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Engines 54 and 41 gathered up in front of 1591 E 172nd street to extinguish a fire that started in an apartment on the first floor. (DIANE JEANTET /The Bronx Ink)

Smoke overcame the odor of fresh paint as six apartments were damaged by a fire that started on the first floor of a five-story building in the Soundview section of the Bronx shortly after 3.30 p.m on Monday, October 17. No one was injured. The cause of the fire in the first floor apartment at 1591 East 172nd Street remained unknown about two hours after firefighters from the Engine 96, Ladder 54 put out the blaze. A fire department official said it may have been caused by maintenance error. “It appears the crew was using a torch to remove the tile from the floor,” said fire chief Raymond M. Stanton. “We had to open walls and put water in two apartments.” An hour before the apartment caught fire, three men were seen removing the flooring in one of the apartments using a torch with a flame-spreader nozzle. In the basement, the building superintendent, who gave his name only as Allan, was working on fixing the boiler, which, according to the residents had been out for a week. At around noon on Monday, Evelyn Dejesus, 49, noticed a small amount of smoke coming out of the apartment that was being repaired by the crew. Dejesus, a 13-year resident living on the second floor, said she alerted the two men, who assured her several times they had everything under control. “They told me it was only a few towels burning,” said Dejesus smoking a cigarette frenetically, standing on a pool of water in the first floor landing. The resident then witnessed the workers’ attempt to stop the smoke by throwing small buckets of water on the fire. Moments later, the smoke had blackened the hallways on the first and second floors. That’s when Dejesus decided to call the fire department. “I knew the workers were doing something wrong,” she said pointing out at the negligence of the maintenance team that had left the building by the time the firefighters arrived on site. In September 2011, Anthony Gazivoda, the powerful Albanian real estate developer acquired the Soundview apartment complex which according to New York City’s Department of Buildings’ website, has 11 open violations mainly for boiler malfunction. The workers told reporters two hours before the fire that they had been hired by Gazivoda to renovate the building. After the firefighters left, three men representing Gazivoda arrived at the building to talk to the tenants and assess the damages. All refused to identify themselves. When asked who the workmen were, one man said: “We don’t know, we’re trying to figure it out just like you.” One of the three Gazivoda representatives said the workers were not licensed. The man answered to the name Henrik but refused to give his full name to the BronxInk reporters. One of the two brothers who own Gazivoda Realty Co Inc, is named Henrik Gazivoda. A number of tenants angry at the damage caused by the fire, complained to the representative and identified him several times as the owner of the building. Edward Maldonado, who has lived in another apartment on the first floor for 10 years, said he believed the workers were questionable. “They take workers off the books,” said Maldonado, as he moved his sofa out of the living room, left in ruins by the firemen. “I’m going to be waiting, gentlemen,” he shouted as the three representatives were leaving the building, promising they would be back in the morning. Dozens of tenants were affected by the fire that started in between the walls of the buildings, which meant firefighters had to demolish sections of the walls and ceilings of six apartments around and above the epicenter of the fire. Residents said they were worried about the coming nights. “Both my children are asthmatic, my door locks are broken, I can’t find my cat,” said Zoerain Siugzda, a resident living on the second floor. “Tell me what I am supposed to do.”

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Bronx woman, 87, dies in apartment fire, New York Times

An 87-year-old Bronx woman was killed and her 91-year-old husband critically injured Thursday afternoon after their apartment on Johnson Avenue caught fire, New York Times. Police identified the woman as Cornelia Dykshoorn and her husband as Marinus Dykshoorn. Both were transported to New York Presbyterian Hospital where Cornelia Dykshoorn was pronounced dead.  

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Norwood business owners still waiting to rebuild from the ashes of last year’s fire

A year later, the boarded up site of Norwood's Oct. 2009 fire. Photo: Elisabeth Anderson

A year later, the boarded up site of Norwood's October 2009 fire. Photo: Elisabeth Anderson

A field of dust and debris emerged in the heart of Norwood’s shopping hub on Bainbridge Avenue last Halloween, when a five-alarm blaze destroyed 10 retail shops in one large lot and badly damaged four more.  A full year later, the rubble remains at the first lot and no redevelopment has begun.  Two local small business owners are speaking out about their anger over the lack of action. “I think it’s outrageous that the property hasn’t been developed,” said Allan Freilich, whose Freilich Jewelers is just over a block from the blaze site on 204th Street. “This is a community issue.  It makes us look like what the South Bronx looked like in the early 1970s.”  Freilich remembers those days.  The 58-year-old Bronx native starting working part-time in his father’s store 40 years ago and would eventually come to take over what is now the oldest family-run jewelry business in the borough. His friend Bill Curran, 37, who owns and directs funerals at the John F. McKeon & Son Funeral Home, added that the fire created a big burden for residents, including him; he lives in an apartment above the funeral home on Perry Avenue, around the corner from the location of the fire.  “It’s affecting people’s ability to get essential day-to-day items in their community, and many people don’t have a way to go to a neighboring community to get those items,” he said, mentioning everything from fresh fish to baked goods. Forty-five percent of residents in the jurisdiction of Community Board 7, which includes Norwood, receive public assistance, according to the Department of City Planning.  Traveling for everyday supplies simply is not practical for most. As the Norwood News reported on Nov. 5, 2009, it took 198 firefighters more than five hours in the early morning hours of Oct. 31 last year to extinguish the flames that enveloped two buildings.  Ten storefronts had addresses ranging from 3083 to 3105 Bainbridge Ave. in one building.  Four others, from 3109 to 3119 Bainbridge Ave., were located in a second; these stores have since re-opened.  The destroyed stores included minimarts, a Mexican restaurant, a Dunkin’ Donuts, a fish market, a barber shop, a nail salon, a record store, and a realty group. Rumors swirled then and until recently about where the fire originated and what caused it.  According to Community Board 7 district manager Fernando Tirado, the fire department reported at last week’s general board meeting that the investigation is now complete and there was no evidence of any criminal activity.  The fire was deemed accidental. Construction crews were frequently on the site for the month or two after the fire to demolish what little remained, Curran and Freilich said.  They returned to wrap a plywood fence around the remaining dirt pit, and have not been seen since. There were happy endings for at least two of the stores affected; European Minimarket moved to a vacant storefront down the street.  Bainbridge Bakery made a fresh start with a new name, Ana’s Bakery, on Williamsbridge Road in Kingsbridge. But that is not necessarily a happy ending for Norwood, Freilich said.  The neighborhood no longer has a bakery.  The other shops that have not reopened mean lost jobs, lost services, and lost foot traffic on Bainbridge Avenue. “People want to shop where the neighborhood looks clean and the businesses are thriving,” Freilich said.  “Having a huge series of boarded up property doesn’t make for an inviting shopping area.”   He thinks the entire 204th Street/Bainbridge Avenue retail corridor, which spans more than six city blocks, is hurting. Curran worries about what the issue could mean for the community, and how that might ultimately hurt his business.  “This has not impacted my business immediately,” Curran said.  “However the continued condition as it is will force people to relocate to other neighborhoods, which will then impact me.” Freilich says the fire has also taken an emotional toll on people here.  “It’s a psychological attitude of depression, of look what’s happening here,” said Freilich, who once headed Norwood’s now-dormant 204th Street/Bainbridge Avenue Merchants’ Association.  He said that in all the years he has been in Norwood,  he has never seen the neighborhood struggle so much. While many Norwood residents and retailers look optimistically eastward to Webster Avenue, where a proposed zoning plan promises plenty of new retail and housing space, Curran and Freilich urge Norwood officials to pay attention to the area that has long been this community’s commercial heart. There is speculation that the affected lot will be sold.  It is run by West Bronx Stores Inc., which is owned by Evelyn Jacobsen.  Jacobsen did not return repeated requests for comment. “If the owner doesn’t want to build, sell to somebody else who will develop the property,” Freilich said.  “All the residents and business owners are suffering over this condition.”

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Judge Overturns Verdict in Firefighter Death Case

A Bronx Supreme Court Judge this morning overturned the conviction of a landlord found guilty in the deaths of two firefighters. Cesar Rios was found guilty of criminal negligence after Lt. Curtis Meyran and Firefighter John Bellew were killed trying to battle flames in his Tremont apartment building. But in a rare move this morning, Judge Margaret Clancy of Bronx Supreme Court set aside that 2009 verdict, deciding there was not enough evidence to show that Rios was aware of the dangerous conditions that led to the firefighters’ deaths. Six firefighters responded to the January 2005 fire that investigators said started when overloaded and spliced wires sparked, igniting bedding material. The men became trapped inside the apartment because of an illegal partition that blocked access to the fire escape and made thermal imaging of the fire less accurate. The partition also trapped the heat until it reached explosive levels, sending a fireball coursing through the narrow hallway and cutting off any escape route. The firefighters were forced to jump out of the window onto pavement five stories below. Meyran and Bellew were killed on impact. Rafael Castillo, the tenant who built the illegal partitions, was found innocent of negligent homicide in 2009. But a separate jury found Rios guilty. Judge Clancy cited “complex issues” in the court’s decision to revisit the case, including the revelation that a juror contacted one of the firefighter witnesses over Facebook before returning a verdict. Clancy emphasized it was not this breach of conduct, but the lack of sufficient evidence that led her to overturn the guilty verdict. She said the prosecution never proved that Rios had actual knowledge that Castillo had built the partition that led to the deaths.
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Jeannette Myran, seen five years ago with her children at the funeral of her firefighter husband, criticized Tuesday's decision in Bronx Supreme Court. (Photo: Associated Press Archive)

Family members, including the widows of the two firefighters killed in the blaze, watched bleary-eyed from the benches of the courtroom, trying to interpret the decision. “She let him go,” cried Jeanette Meyran, her brash voice tinged with bitterness at what she called a ridiculous liberal decision after six months of waiting. “I hope she has a big pillow to put her head on tonight,” Meyran said. “The scar’s just been opened again and again.” Surviving firefighter Jeffrey Cool was furious that Clancy could single-handedly overturn a verdict reached by 12 people. It is uncommon for a judge to set aside a conviction, although no one keeps statistics on how often it happens. “She’s supplanting a jury,” said defense attorney Delmas Costin. “This is huge.” Columbia Law Professor David Richman said, “It’s certainly unusual.” But a judge may review the evidence and decide no reasonable jury would have convicted. The Bronx District Attorney’s Office has yet to decide whether it will appeal. “There’s no consideration for the families,” said Jeanette Meyran. “It’s going to be 10 years before this is all over.”

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In Bronx Blaze, Disaster Averted by Seconds

Jacob Sowell, a Pelham Parkway Houses resident, used this safety harness to aid neighbors, who were leaning out of their windows during an apartment fire.

Jacob Sowell, a resident of Pelham Parkway Houses, used this safety harness to aid neighbors, who were leaning out of their windows during an apartment fire. Photo by Sam Fellman.

Jacob Sowell's nap was rudely interrupted on Monday afternoon by the scene outside his sixth-floor apartment window. He was shocked by what he saw — smoke and a baby dangling out of the window. “It was almost like a dream – a bad dream,” the 66-year-old Sowell said. What he saw was Vanessa Scott, 18, holding her 7-month-old cousin, Zaniwah Alexander, out of the window of her fifth-floor apartment that was engulfed in smoke. She was trying to keep the baby from suffocating, she later told the Daily News. Sowell heard Scott scream, “the fire’s up on me.” Meanwhile, voices from the crowd below cried, “don’t drop the baby!” From Sowell’s window, he could see that she was loosing her grip. Just after 2 p.m. at 795 Pelham Parkway North, a fire broke out in a fifth-floor apartment. Ignited in a closet by the front door, the flames soon spread through the crowded apartment, sealing people in a thick curtain of flame and smoke. Tenants raced to the windows for air. In the apartment directly above, Sowell called 911 and then, with his 20-year-old son Jacob, rushed to the window in his son’s bedroom. Below them, a man and a woman were leaning out the window, gasping for air. “How can I help?” Sowell wondered. Sowell, a construction worker, seized his safety harness and then broke the bedroom window. He clipped the harness to a pipe nearby and handed the makeshift tether to the man below, who grabbed it and was able to lean farther out. Within minutes, fire trucks arrived. The firefighters extended a portable ladder and set it against the seven-story building. One climbed up and carried the baby down to safety, then began to evacuate the other people. The rescue did not come in time for Michel Alexandra to avoid injury. He had been hanging from a rope out of the apartment when the firefighters arrived. Then he lost his grip, falling four stories and striking the building’s awning before hitting the ground. He was evacuated to Jacobi Medical Center, where he is in fair condition, hospital officials said. Firefighters rescued eight tenants, who were also brought to Jacobi with minor injuries. They have since been released. In addition, three firefighters were treated for minor injuries. A day later, many residents of Pelham Parkway Houses were still shaken up. Betty Diaz, 51, whose apartment is on the same floor as the fire, fled the building when she heard the screaming of her neighbors. By the time she snatched Kiuruba, her Yorkshire terrier, and left her apartment, the choking, black smoke filled the hallway. “I can’t see, I can’t even breathe,” Diaz recalled. Diaz, who has lived in the building for 36 years, said this was the first fire. The cause of the fire was children playing with matches, Fire Department officials said.

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