Fire Forces Families From Their Homes
Fire broke out Monday morning in an attached dwelling in Rockaway Beach where families with young children live, despite dangerous conditions and the fact that the city says it hasn't issued the go-ahead for people to live there.
The blaze started inside the living room of an attached home at 195 Beach 96 Street and was reported at about 6:10 a.m., the Fire Department and witnesses said. The home was occupied by Theresa Denory and nine other people including seven children, her neighbor, Jeanette Matos said.
Denory was awakened by the sound of a smoke alarm and immediately evacuated her home. She then rushed to alert her neighbors in their adjoining homes. She was able to wake Matos, who lives in an adjoining home with her six children, her sister and her daughter-in-law.
Firefighters responded and brought the fire under control in less than a half hour, according to an FDNY spokesperson. There were no reported injuries, but Matos and a neighbor in another adjoining home, Darryl Woolfolk, say it's a miracle everyone escaped alive.
"The fire marshal said this place is like a firebox," Woolfolk told The Wave on Monday. "I have to get out of here."
A review of Department of Buildings records shows that the property, 193-195 Beach 96 Street, has six open Environmental Control Board violations and two recent complaints filed via 311. One of the violations - dated almost a year ago - notes, "new building occupied without a valid temporary/final certificate of occupancy." Complaints filed with the DOB in April and again this month, less than a week before the fire, also report people living at the property even though a certificate of occupancy, or C of O, hadn't been issued.
After receiving a complaint, City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr.'s office reported the issue to the DOB, and he has been investigating the property and others for months. "A computer search of the Buildings and Finance Department found the following: 195, 197, 199, 203, 205, 207, 209, 211 Beach 96 Street do not have a Certificate of Occupancy," Addabbo wrote this week in a letter to the DOB.
The DOB confirmed for The Wave that the property doesn't have a Certificate of Occupancy - meaning building inspectors haven't given the go-ahead for people to live there. Inspectors would return to the property this week, according to Tori Edmiston, a spokesperson for the agency who said "additional enforcement" could be forthcoming.
Ownership records for the property were not immediately available through the Department of Finance, the city agency that maintains such records. The residents of the property provided The Wave with their landlord's telephone number. The man, who refused to give his name, was evasive and said he was trying to evict the tenants who suffered the fire anyway.
A Wave reporter toured the property on Monday and observed unsafe conditions such as unlit stairways and dead-bolted, wrought iron rear exit doors to which the residents say they were not given keys. The fire left Denory's home was severely damaged by the flames, smoke and water used to douse the blaze. Water was still dripping into the second floor of Matos' apartment, which sustained water damage and had a heavy smoke odor.
Matos and Denory received assistance from the American Red Cross, which brought them to reception centers and then provided them with hotel rooms for 48 hours. A frustrated Matos told The Wave on Wednesday that she was going to have to vacate her hotel room the next day and would have to enter the city's shelter system. Her landlord, who she knows only by the name Khan, "hasn't even called or nothing," she said. "It's not fair that [Denory and I] have 12 kids and we're out in the street."