By Michael Shain
A row of stores along Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill lay vacant and gutted Monday following a seven-alarm fire Saturday evening, with some residents saying it was likely several buildings would have to be razed due to the destruction.
The fire started at a undetermined location about 11 p.m. near the intersection of Liberty Avenue and 110th Street, underneath the elevated A line train. More than 200 firefighters responded to the blast, and five people, including two firefighters, escaped with minor injuries.
The air still smelled of smoke Monday morning, as FDNY officials rummaged through the wreckage. The majority of the second floors were residencies, and several onlookers expressed surprise and relief that no one was seriously hurt. In some apartments, the back wall was gone, allowing onlookers on Liberty Avenue to see straight through the apartments to the sky behind them.
Anita Aniga, the owner of Liberty Delight, one of the affected restaurants, recalled smelling smoke that she was sure was not emanating from her kitchen.
“I smelled something not right,” she said. “My customers were still eating and drinking, but I felt like something was wrong.”
She stepped out onto Liberty Avenue to seek the source of the odor and saw smoke billowing out of the grocery mart located next door to her restaurant.
“I ran into my restaurant and yelled ‘go, go, go!’” she said, potentially saving her customers from harm. She said the damage to the restaurant had been significant, and the kitchen equipment was ruined. She said some buildings would be knocked down, and another business owner located across the street said he heard five of the buildings would be razed.
An FDNY official at the scene said the investigation was ongoing and did not comment on the source of the blaze, though one individual said he heard the fire started in the back of a grocery on the block.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona