Fire ball engulfs bodega

Early on Friday, January 30, a basement electrical fire spread to 815 Gerard Avenue’s corner bodega. When firefighters opened a gate, flames scorched the building’s second and third floors. No one was seriously hurt. Photo by Daniel Beekman

A corner bodega one block from the old Yankee Stadium belched fire early on Friday, January 30, gutting four apartments. What started as a basement electrical fire erupted into a fireball when firefighters opened the bodega’s gate.

Two second-floor apartments and two third-floor apartments above the bodega burned. Several residents and at least one firefighter suffered smoke inhalation, but there were no serious injuries. About 80 residents evacuated the building.

“I heard this boom,” said Sammy Maldonado, 815 Gerard Avenue’s super. “The whole building shook.”

Maldonado was dozing in his basement apartment when he heard glass shatter and smelled smoke. A wall separates Maldonado’s apartment from the building’s basement utility room, where the fire started.

“My family had to get out the window,” he said.

FDNY received a call at 4:32 a.m. Six minutes later, firefighters arrived on the scene. More than 130 firefighters fought the blaze.

The American Red Cross responded, handing out blankets, hot chocolate and food. Representatives from the city’s departments of buildings, housing and homeless services stopped by.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority parked buses outside 815 Gerard Avenue. Residents climbed onto the buses to stay warm.

Resident Rashan Allen was awake watching television when the fire began.

“All of a sudden, the lights went out,” Allen said. “The cable went out. I thought it was a blackout. Then I saw smoke coming from a second floor window. I rushed out.”

Firefighters and able neighbors sped from door to door, knocking to rouse the building’s residents.

“It was dark – pitch black – and four in the morning,” said Maldonado. “It was definitely scary for everybody. We had to get the elderly people out of there.”

NYC has issued vacate orders on the four apartments damaged by the fire. The displaced residents are living with family members, a neighbor said.

The fire tore through 815 Gerard Avenue’s utility lines, Maldonado said. On Friday morning, the building lacked heat, water, electricity and cooking gas. Landlord Ved Parkash secured a temporary Con Edison feed on Friday night.

Maldonado used propane tanks to ignite the building’s boiler and provide some heat.

“People were freaking out,” Maldonado said. “I put on an extra layer, had my portable heater turned on.”

On Thursday, February 5, the building had heat and hot water, but still no cooking gas and only temporary electricity.

Parkash spent more than $5,000 on emergency repairs last week.

“I feel bad,” he said. “I don’t like fires. This has been devastating for my business.”

On Sunday, February 8, a utility closet caught fire at the 2 train’s Jackson Avenue station, stopping el service between 149th Street and E. 180th Street.

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