By Rebecca Henely
What looked to a neighbor like a small fire in a building at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday on 30th Avenue in Astoria erupted into a four-alarm blaze by 10 a.m., which ended up injuring 13 firefighters and one civilian.
“I was baffled. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it,” said Lemonia Giamepilis, a 20-year-old who works as a cashier at a nearby fruit market.
Smoke was billowing as far as Steinway Street early Tuesday morning after the Flo Lounge Restaurant on 30th Avenue and 38th Street and the apartments on the second and third floors above caught fire. Matthew Katakis, one of the owners of the Pita Pan across the street, said the fire started as a small blaze in the back of the building toward the second floor at around 7:15 a.m. But when he came back hours later from Manhattan, the fire had overtaken the building.
“It started growing and expanding,” said Katakis, who was giving out water bottles to the firefighters.
John Sudnik, deputy assistant chief for the FDNY in Queens, said the call came into the department at about 7:19 a.m. and firefighters were on the scene within three minutes. The owner of the restaurant told Sudnik a tenant on the upper floor first reported the smoke, which started in the basement. The building was evacuated, as was the Astoria Federal Savings Bank adjacent to it, although the fire did not spread to the bank.
The firefighters fought the blaze for about an hour, but the conditions became too serious and they had to battle the flames from the exterior of the building, Sudnik said.
“It’s a pretty stubborn fire,” said Steve Ritea, spokesman for the FDNY.
Ritea said the fire was contained at about 11:30 a.m. He said the fire may have started in the boiler room, but it was still under investigation as of press time Tuesday evening.
Fourteen people were injured, including one civilian, the relative of the store owners. Of the firefighters injured, eight were sent to Elmhurst Hospital Center, at 79-01 Broadway, and four were sent to Mt. Sinai Hospital of Queens at 25-10 30th Ave. in Astoria, Sudnik said.
The owners and an employee of Flo declined requests for comment.
Giamepilis said Flo had a reputation as a good restaurant. As firefighters sprayed water into the building, the “A” rating remained tacked to the restaurant’s glass window.
Demetri Vasiadis, a 29-year-old nearby resident, said his uncle, who also lives in the area, texted him that he saw smoke around 8:30 a.m.
“An hour later, it’s all gone,” Vasiadis said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.