By Rich Bockmann
Police were still working to identify the body of a homeless man who was found dead inside the detached garage of an abandoned Richmond Hill home that went up in flames over the weekend.
When firefighters arrived at the boarded-up house near the corner of 120th Street and Liberty Avenue just before 1 a.m. Saturday, the small garage at the end of its driveway was engulfed in flames. The heat was so intense it melted the vinyl siding on nearby homes.
Once the flames were extinguished, a scorched body was found inside, according to the police. As of press time Wednesday, no identification had been made and the cause of the fire was still being investigated.
Neighbors said that for the past few years a group of homeless men have been living in the garage, although police said that when they arrived, there were no vagrants at the scene.
Shafqat Wasi, whose home is separated from the driveway leading to the garage by only a wooden fence, said there were no problems a few years ago when the house was occupied, but after the renters moved out the landlord could not find any tenants.
For a while, he said, a group of about 10 middle-aged homeless people lived inside the house, and in addition to drinking, drug use and fighting their presence raised concern among the neighbors because they would use candles to light the home.
After several complaints to the authorities, Wasi said, the squatters eventually moved back to the garage.
“They boarded up the house and then they moved to the garage,” he said. “I saw them using candles in there. I told them don’t do that. It’s not safe.”
Wasi said he was awakened in the middle of the night and looked out the window to see flames licking up from the garage for about 20 minutes before the firefighters got the inferno under control.
“I know they gotta keep warm, but there’s gotta be a better way,” he said. “Isn’t there a city shelter or something like that where they can go?”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.