Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rego Park Four-Alarm Fire Under Investigation

Neighborhood Stores Gutted in Blaze

By Conor Greene

The cause of a huge fire in Rego Park that destroyed several small local businesses on Sunday remains under investigation this week, according to FDNY officials.

A dozen firefighters and one police officer suffered minor injuries in the four-alarm fire that broke out near 99th Street and 66th Road just after 8 p.m. All are said to be recovering, but the same can’t be said for several destroyed mom and pop stores.

The scene attracted large crowds of residents, who watched in shock and horror as 168firefighters worked to keep the fire from destroying adjacent buildings including the Tower Diner, which sustained smoke damage. While the building housing the Ohr Natan synagogue was saved, members rushed into the building as firefighters battled nearby flames to save sacred artifacts in case the fire had spread there.

Many residents said this is the largest fire they can recall in the neighborhood since a 1972 blaze near 63rd Drive and Austin Street destroyed several businesses and the local library branch. Michael Perlman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, who was among the residents gathered near the scene, said he has “never seen such a potent local fire.” He added that some of the “way over 100 residents” watching the scene were reduced to “tears and shock” watching the businesses burn.

“A number of long-term mom and pop businesses which are dear to the neighborhood, such as the candy/convenience store, Laundromat, barber, fruit store and dress shop, amongst others, were affected on the 99th Street side,” said Perlman. “Thankfully, nobody was killed, and the pets [in the animal clinic] were rescued.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation as of Tuesday, and is believed to have started in the corner bodega. The majority of the injuries to firefighters occurred when an explosion brought down the ceiling of one of the businesses, which allowed the fire to grow out of control.

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said she spoke with fire officials and was told that all the injured firefighters are recovering from minor injuries. She said the synagogue suffered “very, very slight damage to the back” of the building and that the diner seems to only have sustained smoke damage. The animal clinic also only suffered minor damage, and all the animals were rescued, confirmed Koslowitz.

However, four stores in the area of 66th Avenue and 99th Street were “really heavily damaged,” said Koslowitz. “This was the worst that I can really remember, and I’ve been living here a lot of years,” she added. “It wipes out a lot of stores that served the community around here.” She will work with the city’s small business division in hopes of assisting the displaced business owners. “We’re going to get them together and see what we can do, possibly rebuild them and get them back.

“Thank God nobody was [seriously] hurt, but it’s very sad when you see it in your neighborhood,” said Koslowitz. “It is so depressing when you walk by – it still smells like smoke, which is a constant reminder.”

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