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Fire engulfs Van Nest Ave. homes

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Morris Park was rocked by a fire that engulfed a two-story building on Van Nest Avenue and spread to surrounding properties on Saturday, April 14.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation as of press time, according to an FDNY spokesman. The fire began at 726 Van Nest Avenue, a two-story residential building with a church on the ground floor, at 1:11 p.m., and quickly spread to a 724, 728, and 730 Van Nest Avenue, according to the FDNY.

The four-alarm blaze left two civilians with minor injuries who were treated at the scene, and 17 firefighters with injuries who were taken to Jacobi Medical Center, a FDNY spokesman said.

The fire also spread to a building behind 726 Van Nest Avenue on Hunt Avenue, said Joe Bombace, a witness. “I could see the flames from Matthews Avenue,” Bombace said. “It was surreal.”

A second alarm was called at 1:19 p.m., a third alarm was called at 1:40 p.m., and a fourth alarm at 1:57 p.m., with the fire being brought under control by 3:24 p.m., the FDNY spokesman said. In total 39 FDNY units and 168 firefighters responded.

“These are houses that are over 100-years-old, they are wood-framed houses, and they went up in the blink of an eye,” Bombace said. “Thank God everyone got out alive, but the stench is going to be with us for days.”

The American Red Cross arrived on the scene to relocate as many as 12 families displaced because of the fire, Bombace said.

As of press time on Tuesday, April 17, the New York City Office of Emergency Management was still on the scene. Van Nest Avenue between Holland Avenue and White Plains Road was still blocked off by police as of Tuesday, April 16, said witness Frank Calabro.

An accident had occurred where a young man crashed into one of the barricades, swerving into a house, as he drove down Van Nest Avenue towards White Plains Road, Calabro said.

The Full-Life Christian Assembly, a nondenominational church located on the ground floor of 726 Van Nest Avenue, is the owner of the building where the fire originated, said Udechi Chukwu, the church’s pastor. No one was from the congregation was hurt, Chukwu said.

“We don’t have any place to go right now, and we don’t know what to do next,” Chukwu said. “We are soliciting any kind of help or assistance whatsoever to make sure the congregation keeps going.”

Nearby merchants are losing business because of the barricades, Bombace said.

It is unfortunate that 17 firefighters got hurt, said Jeremy Warneke, district manager of Community Board 11.

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