By Gina Martinez
Discarded cigarettes and matches ignited a five-alarm fire in College Point that displaced eight families, burned through three businesses and injured nine firefighters, the Fire Department said.
The blaze began at 18-11 College Point Blvd.. at 9:50 p.m. July 21 in what investigators have concluded was an accidental fire.
The fire originated outside the building in stored trash that contained common rubbish, plastic containers and a mattress. According to FDNY, the trash was located in the alley between 18-13 and 18-15 College Point Blvd. Firefighters arrived immediately and the flames were under control by 2:30 a.m., FDNY said. A total of 50 units were sent to the scene with around 200 firefighters and EMS personnel.
The blaze quickly spread to the surrounding buildings. On the ground level there were several businesses affected by the fire that included a 99-cent store, an office shared by a podiatrist and a chiropractor, and a florist, according to a FDNY spokesman. The apartments upstairs housed eight families.
The Fire Department waited for a couple of days before entering the building to avoid any further personnel injuries.
“We’re looking at the structural integrity of the building, but we can’t determine until we get in the building,” a spokesman said. “Safety is our priority, we don’t want to put anyone in danger.”
He said the nine firefighters sustained only minor injuries.
— On the Friday morning after the fire broke, firefighters were still at the scene redirecting traffic and pedestrians along the strip of College Point Boulevard from 18th Avenue to 20th Avenue, which were blocked off.
Paul Damiano, owner and hairstylist at Hair Design by Paul at 18-10 College Point Blvd., said the street closing was affecting business.
“The only thing I saw last night was a lot of fire and a lot of trucks,” he said. “I saw the fire from far away. I live on 123rd Street. Clients called me up and told me ‘Are you going to be open?’ I told them we’re OK. They told me they can’t go through, they have to take another street, 123rd and 18th.”
The American Red Cross helped the nine families affected by the fire. Temporary housing was provided for four families, while the other five families had their own relocation spots. Emergency funds were also provided for food and clothing and in the upcoming days case workers will help the families with referrals for longtime housing if needed. Currently five families have met with caseworkers looking into long-term housing, according to the American Red Cross.