By Rebecca Henely
Several residents remain displaced after a five-alarm fire emptied the Caroline Gardens apartment complex in Rego Park last week and injured 17 firefighters — sending four to the hospital.
The American Red Cross in Greater New York reported 35 residents were staying at a makeshift shelter at PS 102 in Elmhurst Monday. Some of those residents were from Caroline Gardens at Woodhaven Boulevard and 60th Avenue, although others were from a fire in an apartment complex at 16-66 Bell Blvd. in Bay Terrace that broke out later the same day. The Red Cross said it has since closed its shelter and opened a service center at its Manhattan headquarters for any residents still displaced.
“It was a nightmare,” Smita Shah, 45, who lives on the fifth floor of Caroline Gardens, said of the July 7 fire in her complex. “Never expected it could happen so fast.”
John Sudnik, deputy assistant chief and Queens Borough commander for the Fire Department, said the blaze started on the sixth floor of in one of the apartments. When the fire was at its peak, it encompassed about five apartments on the sixth floor and the area between the top floor and the roof.
“That’s a wide open area that spans the entire area of the building,” Sudnik said.
He said the call about the fire came in at 10:20 a.m. and members of the FDNY arrived about six minutes later. Additional forces were called in to fight the fire due to the high morning temperatures.
A representative from the FDNY said the cause of the fire was a candle left burning unattended.
Sudnik said the temperature of a fire can reach 1,000 degrees. With all the equipment they needed to wear and the hot temperatures, the firefighters needed to be heavily monitored and could only stay in the blaze for a matter of minutes.
“Even on a normal day, this is a very taxing job,” he said.
Of the 17 firefighters who were hurt, three were sent to a hospital for heat- and exhaustion-related injuries, Sudnik said. The fourth needed to be transferred for minor second-degree burns. No civilians were injured.
The fire was extinguished at 12:38 p.m., he said. Eight apartments or more on the sixth floor were damaged by the fire and the fifth floor sustained water damage.
“I don’t know what to do about a solution,” said Jhon Garcia, 46, a resident of the sixth floor who left early in the morning for a job interview and came back to find the apartment complex on fire.
Edward McQuillan, disaster services liaison officer for the American Red Cross in Greater New York, said the Red Cross was on hand with cold water and other services for the displaced residents. The Red Cross opened a reception center for the displaced residents at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at 86-16 60th Road. It opened the shelter at PS 102 later that evening.
Feroz Kalvavant, 25, who lives in the nearby Karen Gardens and has a brother who lives on the fifth floor of Caroline Gardens, said he was impressed by the response of the firefighters and called them heroes.
“They make me almost want to cry,” he said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.