Saturday, April 30, 2011

Early Morning Bronx Fire In Illegally Converted Rooming House Leaves 3 Dead, 8 Injured; Firetrap Lingered In Foreclosure Since 2008

In The Bronx, New York, the Daily News reports:
  • A fast-moving fire ripped through an apartment in the Bronx on Monday, killing a mother, father and their 12-year-old son who neighbors say were squatting in the building. While the cause of the blaze was under investigation, residents and city records paint a disturbing picture of conditions that may have contributed to three deaths and eight injuries.

  • Residents said the floors of the three-story building had been illegally carved into single-room apartments. Con Ed shut the power off on April 14, prompting some residents to stretch extension cords from another power source.

  • Buildings Department records confirm numerous complaints dating to 2009 about jury-rigged electrical wiring, illegal subdivisions and a lack of secondary exits from apartments at the Prospect Ave. building. The records show inspectors tried to gain access to the building many times but were unable to get inside.

  • About 3:30 a.m. Monday, the building was a virtual firetrap. "It's all rooms," said Eduardo Sanchez, 25, whose second-story apartment was destroyed. "There's like four rooms to a floor - all separate doors."

  • A police source identified the victims as construction worker Juan Lopez, 36; his wife, Christina, 43, and their son Christian Garcia. The parents had two other children who survived the fire after their uncles, who live in the building, pulled them to safety. One of the uncles tried to run back into the building but was repelled by the flames. He then ran to the roof of a neighboring building and tried calling out to his trapped brother but got no response. "He never answered; he never came out," said witness Delsa Martinez. "It happened so fast. They were good people. I can't believe they died in seconds like that."

  • Neighbors said the family moved into the apartment just over a year ago. Some described the family as squatters who shouldn't have been in the building.

  • The two-story blaze quickly spread from the second floor to the third, where the family lived. It took more than 100 firefighters about an hour to stop the flames.

  • Property records show the Belmont building had slipped into foreclosure in [2008] and that ownership had passed through several banks since then. Neighbors said squatters soon began taking over.

  • "It's been like that for a year. The place went into foreclosure, and people kept going in there," said neighbor Mike Lopez. "There's been 10 different families that moved in and out of there, easily."

  • The last owner of record, Domingo Cedano - who runs a used-car dealership on Park Ave. in the Bronx - said he had spoken to fire officials, but he insisted he had nothing to do with the building. "I feel bad, but I am not the owner anymore," he said. "I don't want to give any information because the building is under investigation."
Source: Early morning Bronx fire leaves 3 dead, including child; Building had history of complaints. subdivided
See also, The New York Times: Bronx House Fire Kills Boy, 12, and His Parents:
  • Gayla Marsh, 58, a nurse who owns the home next door, said squatters had moved in and even started charging others rent. [...] Neighbors said they had seen residents use a generator and hastily rigged-up wiring to power the building.
For follow-up stories, see: