A smoke fog that extended 25 blocks and had most of western Queens residents holding their nose on Tuesday afternoon, originated from the top floor of a six-story apartment building on 34th Avenue near 90th Street in Jackson Heights, according to the FDNY.
The fire that grew to eight alarms, left at least 21 injured, and involved approximately 400 emergency and fire personnel. It took firefighters hours to get the fire that started at 1 p.m. under control. At midnight, several first responders were still on the scene.
FDNY officials, still uncertain of how the fire started, said the incident could have easily been less dire if all apartment doors were closed.
“If you do unfortunately have a fire in your home, it’s important to close that door because the fire spreads out into the hallway and units are unable to make a quick advance,” a firefighter on the scene said.
The fire forced more than 200 families to be displaced and 133 apartments damaged, according to police.
But despite the massive fire, a short period of hope surged in the neighborhood as community organizations flocked the block to help out. Almost immediately after the fire ripped through the building, various groups started donation drives for food, diapers, chargers, toiletries, masks and hand sanitizers.
“I am a neighbor who knew nothing, and then knew everything because everyone was whispering it in my ear,” said Manuela, who tried to help keep things organized and patrolled the street the whole night with a megaphone, directing families to the bus that would transport them to their hotels. Manuela would only give her first name to maintain her privacy.
Among the helpers were district 34 assemblywoman candidate, Nuala O’Doherty, the Red Cross, and the superintendent of a six building unit in South Ridge that opened its door to people who were displaced. He did not want to give his last name because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press.
“Ms. Nuala actually came and took charge to help out the community, Red Cross were the ones who helped relocate the rest of the families to hotels and the Office of Emergency Management also came as well to help set up with everything else,” said the superintendent.
“I had a minimum of maybe 30, 40 calls of people asking how they can help. I have people on standby saying ’listen you let me know what you need,” he added. “And that’s the best feeling, everybody, doesn’t matter where they live. They come along and they are here to help out, so you can really feel the community.”
As of Wednesday night, more than $160,000 worth of funds had been raised and will be distributed to the families in need. However, the negative still outweighs the positive as the families affected will forever be impacted.
“The Red Cross funds the hotels for 2-3 days and after that people are on their own,” said O’Doherty, the candidate for state assembly, in disappointment.
To further support the families, a GoFundMe was created on behalf of the building’s tenants union and anyone impacted by the fire who has not yet connected with the Red Cross can call 877-RED-CROSS, and hit “option 1.”