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Photo by Carlotta Mohamed
This house at 147-09 41st Ave. erupted in flames on June 6, after an MS-13 gang member allegedly set the house on fire leaving two gang members in critical condition.
By Carlotta Mohamed

A suspected MS-13 gang member was arrested and charged with setting a fire in Flushing June 4 that injured more than 10 firefighters and left two alleged gang members in critical condition, according to the NYPD.

More than 100 firefighters responded to the two-alarm fire at around 2 a.m. at a vacant building that was engulfed in flames at 147-09 41st Ave. Michael Gongora, 20, of 110-27 115th Ave. was charged June 6 with arson, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, and criminal possession of a weapon, according to the NYPD.

Gongora was seen on a neighboring surveillance video climbing over a concrete wall and walking up to the front of the building. He used a lighter and lit a bedsheet on fire that was hanging from the front window, and then jumped over the wall running down 147th Street, according to the DA.

He admitted he went over a concrete wall and walked up to the front of the building, used a lighter and lit a bedsheet on fire that was hanging from the front window, according to the criminal complaint by the Queens district attorney.

Gongora, who used to live at the residence, was forced out by two suspected MS-13 gang members, the NYPD said. Gongora, who wanted to “get back” at Jose Benavides and Ismael Santos, said Benavides tried to stab him and Ismael had a gun, according to the DA.

The two men jumped out of a second-story window to escape the fire and were taken to Weill Cornell Medical Center, where they remain in critical condition, according to the DA’s office. Benavides suffered burns to 15 percent of his body — including second- and third-degree burns to his arms, hands, back and face. Santos suffered burns to 8 percent of his body, including second-degree burns to both hands and third-degree burns to his right wrist, according to the DA’s office.

FDNY Fire Marshal Michael Coyle determined the fire began on the first floor near the front door and window before spreading to other parts of the house.

It was not the first fire incident that had occurred at the vacant home, which was commonly referred to as the “Queens house of horrors.”

The owner of the residence, Katherine Vortholomeou, was sentenced to one year in jail for endangering the welfare of her then 8-year-old son, and two granddaughters, ages 2 and 3, according to the New York Daily News. She was sentenced to one year in jail in March 2015.

The Flushing home had a hole in its roof and was infested with rodents. There was no electricity or running water, forcing the family to use buckets that were filled with human waste and left in the house, according to the DA.

Kimberly Piao, 45, who lives three houses away from the charred residence, said no one on the block ever saw the owner.

“During the day it’s a ghost house, but at night there’s activity going,” said Piao. “Homeless people would come through the backyard at night and sleep there.”

Piao said the next door neighbor, who had to move after the fire spread to her home, was afraid of the vagrants who were staying in the abandoned house filled with garbage.

“She used to complain about the people coming and going. but nothing was done,” Piao said. “It’s horrible what happened.”

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmohamed@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

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