By Rich Bockmann
As construction equipment cleared debris along Hempstead Avenue Monday afternoon, Fire Department investigators searched for clues as to what set a Queens Village bodega ablaze earlier in the morning.
More than 25 units and 106 firefighters responded to the two-alarm call at the three-story brick building, on the corner of 220th Street and Hempstead Avenue, just after 3 a.m., and they battled blazes in the basement and the first floor until about 7 a.m., according to the Fire Department.
Fire officials said one young child was examined for minor injuries at the scene, but was not taken to the hospital.
The city Department of Buildings vacated the building, noting the FDNY had reported a gas explosion in the structure, although the Fire Department could not confirm this.
NY1 reported that firefighters had a difficult time getting into the burning lower levels to perform a search and that they were concerned with the structural stability of the building. The entire ground floor had been gutted out and there was visible fire damage on the second level.
FDNY officials said they had to vacate the Love Peace & Joy Preschool and Kindergarten next door to the scene of the fire, but could not comment on whether or not there was any permanent structural damage to its building.
Onlookers gathered around the scene during the afternoon as a skid loader pushed charred building remains into a pile where the store’s red and white awning lay upside down on the street.
John Ehler said he was in the neighborhood visiting friends when he heard a loud explosion rock the block in the early morning hours.
“It sent a refrigerator flying into the roadway,” he said. “The roll-up door got blown out onto the road, too.”
Ehler said that until recently, the bodega was clad in scaffolding as it underwent renovations, which included a newly installed grill, stove and hot-food tray with a new exhaust vent leading from the side of the building all the way up to the roof. He suggested the explosion may have been caused by a faulty gas connection.
The two floors above, he said, were newly renovated apartments. He said there were signs outside the building advertising rooms for rent, but no one had been occupying them at the time of the fire.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.