By Bill Parry and Michael Shain
A 30-year-old man has been charged with attempted murder and arson in the fast-moving blaze that engulfed eight row houses in Woodhaven Wednesday night and injured eight people, including two children, the Queens district attorney’s office said.
A spokeswoman for the DA said Louis Lopez, 30, who lived in one of the row houses, faces charges of second-degree attempted murder, second-degree arson, cruelty to animals and endangering the welfare of a child. Lopez had a dispute with his landlord, who asked him to pack his belongings and leave, sources said. Later that day the landlord smelled smoke.
Lopez was arraigned Friday afternoon on the charges.
Six residents suffered minor injuries as the blaze forced families to jump out of their windows to escape the flames, the FDNY said. Two firefighters also were injured slightly.
More than 165 firemen and 40 trucks were called to battle the fire on a narrow street just a block off Atlantic Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard. The blaze reportedly started in 91-24 90th St. at 8:30 p.m. The extent of the damage to the homes on the block was not known , a spokesman for the Fire Department said..
The blaze apparently spread along the roof line of the attached homes. Neighbors said they first realized something was wrong when they heard the sound of breaking glass as residents broke windows to get out of the burning houses.
The fire grew to four alarms within 20 minutes of the first companies arriving on the scene because so many firefighters were needed to go into each house to check for trapped residents and then fight to keep the flames from moving farther down the block. The fire was under control by 10:11 p.m., the FDNY said.
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 more than 60 people who were displaced by the fire. Donations will help Catholic Charities provide gift cards to supermarkets, clothing, replacement furniture and other essentials.
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) called for an end to cocklofts in older row house after the Woodhaven fire.
Addabbo said the quick action of the FDNY in containing the fire prevented what could have been “unspeakable” damage.
The lawmaker urged passage by the state Assembly of his bill to replace cocklofts in old row houses, which he contends puts both residents and firefighters at greater risk as the fire leaps from one structure to the next. The Senate passed the bill last year.
“Connected row houses are no longer built with cocklofts, partly due to their ability to allow flames to move quickly from building to building,” Addabbo said in a statement. “Now it’s time to protect our older buildings, historic marks of our neighborhood, by closing off these structures so this does not happen again. The frequency of these kind of fires needs to be addressed.” Addabbo said he was setting up drop-off sites for donations of clothing and other items to the Woodhaven victims at his offices in Howard Beach and Middle Village.
-The Red Cross said it provided emergency assistance to 20 adults and eight children in temporary lodging. The agency also gave out emergency funds for food and clothing.
Officials said it was too early to speculate on what started the fire.