By Tom Momberg
More than 60 residents were displaced by a fire that ravaged eight row houses in Woodhaven last week, leaving them to sort out their lives in the aftermath.
Natzania Granda and her son Ever Vaca were able to flee their house in time, but they are now shuttling to different hotels and apartments on insurance funds until they can get everything back in order.
Granda’s other son, Emilio Granda, moved to Arizona to attend school over a year ago, but said he wishes he could be with them as they try to move on.
“I really wanted to take an immediate flight out there, but didn’t have the funds,” Emilio Granda said in a telephone interview. “I am just grateful that even though I wasn’t there, the Red Cross and broader community chipped in to help. Just a blanket can be very comforting.”
A disgruntled tenant in one of the row houses was arrested and charged with attempted murder, arson and other counts in the March 18 blaze, which injured four adults, two children and two firefighters, according to the Queens district attorney. All the injuries were minor. Two dogs died.
The fire actually started just one building over from Granda’s family home at 91-21 90th Street.
The fast-moving blaze was able to spread quickly through the min-attic connecting the series of row houses, known as a “cockloft,” according to fire marshals.
“I grew up in that house,” Granda said. “It’s a tragedy that my mom lost the house she worked so hard to buy. But it always could have been worse. The insurance company will rebuild what was lost”
City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), state Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), and Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens announced the creation of a special relief fund to help the displaced families.
The Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 20 adults and eight children with temporary lodging, and provided emergency funds for food and clothing immediately after the fire.
State Sen. Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) compared the community support by his constituents to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy several years ago.
“Sometimes it takes a disaster to turn ordinary people into extraordinary people,” he said. “It could have been much worse, but we have to recognize the residents that stepped up to support these victims.”
Addabbo sponsored a bill that has been floating around the Senate for years, which would provide a tax credit to homeowners who repair cockloft hazards in their homes to prevent such disasters.
“I don’t know how many times we are going to witness this before something is done about the vulnerability of these row houses,” Addabbo said.
The accused arsonist, Louis Lopez, 31, was the tenant in the first floor of one of the row houses where the fire began. He was arraigned on two counts of attempted murder, arson, two counts of aggravated cruelty to animals and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, according to the DA.
If convicted, Lopez could be sentenced to as much as 25 years in prison.
Lopez admitted to investigators that he had an argument with his landlord the night of the fire, and that he had intended to scare her and her boyfriend, according to the criminal complaint filed by the DA.
The defendant also admitted to using a lighter to start a small fire on a pile of clothes in his bedroom and left the apartment, the complaint said.
The blaze grew to four fire alarms within 20 minutes of the first companies arriving on the scene. More than 165 firemen and 40 trucks were dispatched by FDNY to battle the blaze and check each building for trapped residents. Two firefighters sustained injuries in the process, according to the fire marshal.
Significant structural damage from the fire displaced families from the building where the fire originated and seven adjoining houses.