A fire that started at about 10 p.m. on Friday, November 26, ripped through a five-story apartment building at 131 E. 169th St., killing one man and sending seven to the hospital.
Fire fighters were on scene, fighting the blaze until almost 5 a.m., FDNY officials said.
The cause of the second-alarm fire is still under investigation, but investigators are reportedly looking for a group of teens seen lighting things on fire in the building earlier in the evening.
About 35 apartments in the building were damaged, with the worst of the inferno hitting dwellings on the second and third floors. Thirty-one people were displaced because the damage was so severe, and many were forced to spend a few nights at a temporary emergency shelter in a nearby school.
“It’s tragic that this happened, especially during the holiday season,” said Jose Rodriguez, district manager for Community Board 4. “We hope that all the families affected receive proper care and that they can return to their homes soon.”
Officials hoped to allow tenants back into the less damaged wing of the apartment building by Monday, November 29.
On the following Tuesday, dozens of windows were boarded up to shield the apartments from the rainy weather.
Debris was still in the halls and Red Cross signs were tapped up against the fence outside the building. A small memorial – made out of cardboard boxes, candles and flowers – that honor the injured and deceased sat inside the main gate in the rain.
Witnesses reported tenants jumping from fire escapes to escape the blaze. During the first few minutes of the inferno, fire fighters found the body of tenant, Juan Marte, 46, in the fourth-floor stairwell.
“It’s terrible. Something very, very sad,” said Ernesto Baptista, whoworks as a barber at the nearby barbershop where Marte worked.“He was a good friend. He was like family and we’re going to miss him.”
Baptista said the entire community has been rocked by the fire.
“With all incidents like this, it is a tragedy for the community,” Rodriguez said. “It affects everyone, and the quality of life for all the friends and families.”
Rodriguez said the last big fire in the district happened about a year ago, and that for the past few years, two- and three-alarm fires are becoming increasingly common. Although he said most can probably be attributed to faulty and old electrical wiring, Rordiguez said that arson seems to be increasing in the district.
“The majority have been unfortunate circumstances,” he said. “There have been some that are pretty suspicious. No concrete evidence have ever been provided to the community board, but maybe one or two could have been arson relation.”