South Richmond Hill, Queens, New York
A 5-alarm fire tore through multiple homes Friday afternoon in South Richmond Hill, taking the lives of three civilians and leaving five firefighters with minor injuries.
Two of the three deceased were found in 104-18 125th Street on Friday night, the FDNY told the Chronicle. By Saturday afternoon, the third was found in the same building, the FDNY said; the search is still ongoing. The NYPD told the Chronicle that the victims have yet to be identified, as of Saturday afternoon.
The fire began at approximately 1:15 Friday afternoon, neighbors said. By 2:15, it had been declared a 2-alarm fire, and within less than an hour, it had been upped to 5-alarms. As the FDNY worked to calm the blaze on 125th Street between Liberty Avenue and 107th Avenue, neighbors stood on the sidewalk and sat on their stoops, watching in awe at the cloud of smoke.
Residents told the Chronicle that the block is a tight-knit community; that was clear as some comforted their neighbors; meanwhile, others walked up and down the block, handing out water bottles to firefighters and police officers.
As many as five houses were affected by the fire, with three — 104-20, 104-18 and 104-16 — taking the lion’s share of the damage. Two homes across the street had their windows blown out.
A fairly narrow street, many of the homes are quite close together, making it plausible for fire to spread across several of them. On top of that, Friday afternoon was particularly windy, which only made the fire bigger.
Though the FDNY press office said that the cause is not yet known, Rafena Santram, who lives in 104-16 and whose daughter was home when the fire began, said that a backyard propane tank was involved. Fortunately, Santram said, she has family in the area who she and her family can stay with in the meantime. Red Cross officers were on the scene by 4:30 p.m., working with residents to determine how best to assist them.
The Red Cross later said that it is assisting nine families — 29 adults and 13 children — affected by the fire.
Nine families living in two family houses. A few of them living in the basements, which included the family that perished from the explosion and the inferno. While the block is a close knit community, these families could have lived in a safer home if the city didn’t have such an incremental “affordable housing” program for middle class and working poor families and built 75-80% of it for wealthier people. How many more citizens will have to risk their lives and livelihoods to find an affordable place to live? And how many homeowners can hang on to their properties with the massive taxes they pay compared to ones in wealthier enclaves that they have to rent out their basements to settle in their hometowns?