A fire in an illegally-occupied home has taken another life in the Bronx.
The two-alarm blaze broke out just before 2 a.m. on Saturday, July 16 at 1991 Morris Avenue in Mount Hope. The lone victim has not yet been identified, but according to the building’s owner, Bennie Jones it was one of several squatters who had been living in the upper floors of the brownstone without his permission.
Jones, who occupied the basement apartment, was not hurt in the fire but has been forced to vacate his home of 35 years. Hehas minimal housing prospects for the near future.
In April, a family of three was killed in a fire at an illegally subdivided home on Prospect Avenue.
As of Tuesday, July 19, the cause of the Morris Avenue fire was still under investigation by FDNY. Like the house on Prospect, the site of Saturday’s fire had neither electricity nor gas power.
In early July, the three-story house had been cited by the Department of Buildings for an unlocked door and broken, unguarded windows. According to Jones, people came and left the top floors of his building as they pleased, and he felt intimidated and powerless to stop them.
“If you fight those kinds of people, you might end up dead,” he said while cleaning out the rubble from his basement apartment dwelling the Monday following the conflagration.
Jones said he had rented out the apartments upstairs years ago, until a tenant left the unit in shambles. Since then, squatters have taken over, refusing to pay rent, he said.
“They would leave and then come back, and they were here (on Saturday) even though I had told them to leave years ago,” the 69-year-old retiree said.
The building was also hit with several thousand dollars worth of fines in 2009 for illegal single room occupancy dwellings. Police said Jones has not been charged with any crimes. Jones was asleep when the fire started, and awoke to the screams of someone inside his building.
“I was in my bed at 2 a.m.,” he said. “Then I heard someone out in the hallway saying ‘there’s a fire!’ and nobody was even supposed to be here.”
Etta Lucas has lived on the same block as Jones, Morris between East Tremont Avenue and East 179th Street, for the past 30 years. Like the rest of the houses on the street, she was awoken by the fire early Saturday morning.
“I just saw big flames shooting up in the air,” she said. “Everybody around here was disturbed.”
James was not surprised to see disaster strike the house, given its history.
“That house was without light, water, gas, for a long time,” she said. “It’s been a sore thumb for the community. (Jones) is a good man, it’s a community problem.”
Living with people he was intimidated by, without basic amenities, in the words of Jones was “very unpleasant.” He spent the days following the fire cleaning out the rubble from his home, and sleeping at a Red Cross shelter in Manhattan. He was assured a bed from Red Cross until Tuesday, after that he did not know where would be staying.