By Gina Martinez
A three-alarm fire burned through a beloved Whitestone food market, destroying M&M dry cleaners and Laundromat along with it and injuring four firefighters, FDNY officials said.
The fire started on the ground floor of Strawberry Farms at 24-11 150th St. at around 9 p.m. Tuesday and firefighters arrived at the scene five minutes later, FDNY said. The cause of the fire was still under investigation by fire marshals.
The market has been in the neighborhood for over 30 years, according to residents, who pointed out that it was within walking distance for many customers.
The blaze was so intense that it was escalated to three alarms at around 1 a.m., four hours after it had begun. Firefighters did not declare the fire under control until 2 am., the Fire Department said.
Four firefighters were taken to an area hospital with minor injuries, according to FDNY.
“I’ve never seen so many fire trucks in my life,” said Whitestone resident Lisa Genna, who left her house at around 10 p.m. when she heard the fire trucks.
“The firefighters were very in control of the fire, traffic stopped and no one was allowed to get too close. Everything was shut down,” she said.
By morning, the roof of the market and adjoining laundry were completely caved in, creating a block-long scene of devastation. A broken water main inside the Laundromat continued to leak water into the street and owners of the Strawberry Farms removed rubbish from what was left of the food market.
“It started in the supermarket and then it worked its way into the Laundromat,” said Lucy Garcia, who lives across the street from Strawberry Farms. “Then when the fire trucks came, firefighters were on the roof and while they were trying to take out the fire, they fell into the roof. One of them got pinned, so they had to take him out. I saw the roof cave in.”
Garcia, a lifelong Whitestone resident, said the market had been thriving part of the neighborhood for as long as anyone can remember.
“They’ve been here for a very long time and it was doing very well for its location,” she said. “It was improved, they put in new flooring recently, they started to sell meats. Before it was just fruits vegetables, but they started incorporating more stuff. It became bigger inside.”
Tom Hotzoglou, a contractor, was helping a neighbor board up her windows the morning after the fire. Firefighters had knocked out her windows on the second floor to throw water on the fire.
“I got here at 10 p.m. and the flames were already above that tree,” he said, pointing to a three-story-high willow.
“They fought like hell for hours. They couldn’t go in the building, so they had to wait for the roof to collapse to get water on the fire inside. They broke the windows inside the house to get access to the fire and they kept dousing the sides of the houses to keep the fire from jumping.”
This is the second major fire in the area to destroy multiple businesses. On July 21 a five- alarm fire displaced eight families and destroyed three businesses in College Point. The cause of the fire was determined to have been discarded cigarettes and matches.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart